In 2000, Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation sponsored a group of young Mennonite entrepreneurs and artists by helping them acquire the former Union Baptist Church, a long-abandoned landmark structure long straddling the neighborhoods of East Liberty, Morningside and Highland Park. Building on the work of the Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience (PULSE)—the Union Project catalyzed the united effort of a dozen PULSE alumni in a bold entrepreneurial endeavor.
Neighbors Need a Place to Gather
The Union Baptist Church, formerly the Second United Presbyterian Church, had fallen into terrible neglect and disrepair. Drug deals were done behind and within the abandoned structure. The roof was open to the sky, and for a decade the rain came in like a flood. Neighbors, especially the youth, walked past this landmark edifice everyday with no place where they might meet, contribute, create, be. Young adults living three doors away in the PULSE house saw this occurring and had a vision to restore this structure to become a gathering place for artists, community builders, and people of faith.
Enterprise Creates Change
After purchasing the structure, the Union Project founders faced a million dollars of stained glass repair—not to mention the several million dollars of overall reconstruction required. As artists and entrepreneurs, they arrived at a brilliant stroke: they would hire a stained glass restoration master artist and teach neighbors to restore stained glass. Five hundred students later—every student paying for the opportunity to learn a new craft—the windows are nearly done. From this lesson, the Union Project built three additional enterprises; Ceramics, Space Rental, and Café.
Artists Catalyze Creativity
The strongest way people in need can be transformed into capable contributors is through creativity. The Café teaches young people how to prepare great food and run a small business. Ceramics teaches youth and adults how to throw pots and make art. Glass Action gives an artisan skill to neighbors that they can go ahead and use back on their own home.
Faith Holds it All Together
At the center of the Union Project is the Open Door, a worshipping community that reminds the whole of the Union Project that faith is needed. Changing a neighborhood is outside of human capability. Many costly efforts have failed, proving just how difficult transformation is. Faith reminds the Union Project to be open to gifts that come from outside of human effort, but which our neighborhoods need.