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                                             Diana Nelson Jones/Post-Gazette  

Stephen Hughes, in background, brought youth from NDiana Nelson Jones/Post-Gazetteorthern Ireland to the Hill District for an exchange program. He's working with Davon Brown, digging weeds at Pittsburgh Weil PreK-5.

Hill District groups are planning and fundraising now to send 10 teenagers from the neighborhood to Ireland next summer. It would be the first trip for local youth in an exchange that has brought teenagers from Northern Ireland to the Hill for three years.

Sponsored by a youth organization in Dundonald, a town near Belfast, this year’s group was here last week to perform a variety of services — packing bags of food to distribute to needy children for the non-profit Focus, varnishing a pergola, digging up weeds and mulching in a garden at Pittsburgh Weil Pre-K-5.

The Hill-Dundonald relationship has offered many rich experiences but no greater lesson than that “the situations our children deal with may not be much different than theirs,” said Emma Lucas-Darby, a member of the Hill House Association’s board and one of the trip’s coordinators. “We want our children to be global citizens and to have international experience.”

Jeffrey Anderson, chief operating officer at the Hill House Association, said a 10-day trip for 10 youth and five chaperones will cost $65,000.

“Very few kids from underserved areas get an opportunity to travel abroad,” he said. “The kids in [Dundonald] understand this and are raising funds on their end.”

Numerous organizations have played a role in this exchange — the Hill District Education Council, the Hill District Consensus Group, the Ujamaa Collective, the Hill House Association and the locally based Amizade International, an organization that helps to enable field service learning in 12 countries.

Stephen Hughes coordinates the trip for the Northern Irish youth he accompanies.

“The Hill District has so much to teach us,” he said. “There is good community development work, and work with young people. But the underlying motivation we all have is peace building.” Referring to the three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, “We have had sectarian conflict, and a lot of our kids have had narrow life experiences. It is important that we challenge negative attitudes.”

He said the trip organizers intentionally pair Protestant and Catholic youth to work on projects — an exchange within an exchange. Before they can mix with black children in America, they have to cut through biases and suspicions that caused decades of violence where they live.

I am reminded of a presentation English Burton made at a North Side meeting recently as one of the founders of the North Side Old Timers. A group of longtime North Side residents forged the group in 2007 in response to gun violence.

“These are the streets we grew up on,” Mr. Burton said. “These are our streets, and we can’t condone this violence.”

He said the Old Timers have raised money to take North Side youth roller skating every month and for yearly visits to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Before the kids get on buses to go, he said, they signify boundaries by standing in packs.

“We put them on the bus with somebody they don’t know,” he said. “They say, ‘Noo, we ain’t...’ but we make them. We tell them, ‘You got a two-hour ride and you’re going to make a friend.’ ”

If you are loaded with fear and suspicion, befriending someone your peers dis can be as challenging as crossing an ocean. Children won’t do this without shepherds, and without shepherds, they will be cheated out of a life of social consciousness.

“If you can change the way a kid thinks about another kid,” said Mr. Burton, “you can change the way he acts with another kid.”

To contribute, contact Mr. Anderson at or 412-392-4474. Checks to the Hill House Association can be sent to the attention of Jeffrey Anderson at Hill House Association, 1835 Centre Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15219.

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626.

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Date Published: 
Tuesday, November 4, 2014 | 412-765-1820 |

Serving the Greater Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA