Updated: Jan 14
What a difference a year can make! In January, we were still deep in "virtual mode." Our first community meeting of the year was held via zoom and was titled "Countering Antisemitism in Etna." This was in response to the fear and anxiety brought on by the display of a swastika flag in the community. Councilwomen Jessica Semler and Alice Gabriel organized a GoFundMe fundraiser to help pay for yard signs with the message "Etna is for Everyone" and "Hate has no Home Here." In just two days, enough money was raised to purchase 200 yard signs which were distributed to people throughout the borough. One year later, these messages of love and support for our neighbors can still be seen in every corner of the community. ECO organized a virtual meeting to bring a conversation to the community about the rise of modern antisemitism, community healing after trauma, and equity, inclusion and belonging. The meeting featured representatives from the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, the 10.27 Healing Partnership, and the LIGHT Education Initiative. It was an informative and inspiring meeting where community members learned how we can be allies to our Jewish friends and neighbors in a time when antisemitism is on the rise.
April brought the (almost) annual Etna-Sharpsburg Earth Day Challenge. Etna residents came out in droves to clean our streets after a blustery winter. A 30 yard dumpster was filled with trash by our Public Works Department who collected the bags filled by participants. Once the streets were clean, Etnians and Sharpsburgers merged at the Etna Riverfront Trail and Park for food trucks, a free concert by Sierra Sellers, some "Trash Talk" by Mayor Tom Rengers and Mayor Brittany Reno, and to hear State Senator Lindsey Williams, State Representative Sara Innamorato, and Council Councilperson Anita Prizio announce the winner. Surprise! It was a tie for the third straight year. Everyone is a winner on Earth Day!
The summer brought a lot of behind the scenes work to advance our signature project, the Etna Center for Community. Several funding sources, such as grants from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, the Allegheny County Economic Development department, the Fugh Foundation, Tippins Foundation, and many individual donations, helped to move us through this preliminary stage of the project. Over a year of pre-development work had been going on before the nonprofit reached its fundraising goal and was able to purchase the building at 341-343 Butler Street. Structural and environmental assessments were completed, preliminary property surveys and design renderings were done, and a subcommittee called the Property Task Force investigated the property, as well as surrounding properties, to determine if it was the best option for the future ECC. All of this work paid off when on August 30th, ECO was able to close on the building.
Once the building was acquired, ECO hit the ground running to activate the space and re-engage the community around the Library Project. In August, we held the first meeting in our Library Series: Vision for Etna's Library. In this meeting we saw the renderings of the space that were developed to showcase the vision for the ECC. We also heard from Nora Peters, the executive director of the Millvale Community library, who described the types of programs and services that are offered in Millvale and what the community of Etna can look forward to. Chris Guignon of GBBN Architects also gave an overview of his firm's work to give residents an idea of what to expect as he worked through the final design of the space.
Also in August, we launched Nature Nights at EcoPark. Environmental educator and Etna resident, Judith Koch, along with her partner Carya, lead a group of inquisitive kids through the park to talk about how it functions as a rain garden. The kids were also treated with pizza and popsicles. This program was very popular, and we held two more events on environmental topics in September and October. Nature Nights is suspended for the winter months, but it will be back in 2023 with more learning, fun, and popsicles!
September in Etna means the Etna Art Tour. This year was the biggest and best Art Tour to date. Two stages on Butler Street with a variety of musical acts flanked 30 artist and vendor tents selling everything from fine art to beef jerky! The artists studios at 412 Studios were also open to visitors who got a behind-the-scenes look at the creative spaces. Attendees could also browse in our small businesses and visit the redevelopment of the Tippins Mill on Bridge Street. The mill's developer, the AM Group, graciously opened up the space and hosted four live painters and two DJs throughout the night. At the end of the night, the paintings were auctioned off. It was truly a highlight to be able to walk inside this piece of Etna history and view the great changes going on in our community.
Our second meeting of the Library Series was held in October and was called Diverse Identities and Inclusion. A panel of speakers addressed issues of social equity and how programming at the library can address disparities in our community. A wonderfully open and insightful conversation was held between the panelists and the attendees of the meeting. Social equity is one of the quality of life issues addressed in the Etna EcoDistrict plan, but we have always viewed it as the umbrella under which we do everything. Creating a safe space with programs and services that support the most vulnerable in our community is a top priority. We look forward to continuing this conversation and expanding it to more programs at the Rivertown Library.
Our public safety officials were gathered in November to discuss all the ways that they keep our community safe, and how services at the future library can improve public safety as well. We heard about all of the programs, training, and services offered by our EMS service, fire service, and police department. We learned about a new program that our police are involved in called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, which helps connect people with social services. Emergency response in the borough was discussed as well as the future ECC's role as a resiliency hub. We also had two representatives from the Allegheny County Library Association in to discuss the Social Workers in Library program, which places social workers in library spaces to help library patrons receive services that they may need which fall outside the skill set of librarians and staff.
On December 14th, we'll hold our year end event: A World Cultures Holiday Celebration. This will be a festive gathering where we'll showcase foods from different holiday traditions, including Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, Las Posadas, and Winter Solstice. We'll take this time to reflect on a successful year of progress for our community, and to give thanks to all of our friends and neighbors who work everyday to make Etna a great place to live, work, and play.