Updated: Jan 13, 2022
By Jamie Wiggan
Residents of the Hays Manor public housing facility in McKees Rocks may soon be landing jobs in leading technology fields such as coding, drone operation and cryptocurrency.
Before mastering advanced tech skills, though, some participants may need to work through underlying mental health issues or brush up on practical skills like time management, said Terry Smith, Founder of M-PowerHouse of Greater Pittsburgh.
Seeing those ranging needs, Smith is developing programming in partnership with the county housing authority and other local organizations that will combine social and emotional development opportunities with career-ready education programs. He hopes the result – the M-PowerHouse Community Haven at Hays Manor – could provide a template for transforming distressed communities nationwide.
“This is the first model in the country here in McKees Rocks,” he said. “We expect to see upward mobility...we’re trying to turn disparity into parity.”
The programming, which will include cybersecurity, robotics and drone operation, is set to take off in the coming weeks and months. Local organizations including Pittsburgh Robotics Network, Lattus and Dark Rhino Security are assisting with curriculum implementation.
Meanwhile, social workers are already on-site assisting with behavioral support, and different technology curricula are expected to launch in the coming weeks and months, according to Smith.
Having founded M-PowerHouse in 2007, Smith has been helping disadvantaged students get better access to key career skills for nearly 15 years. The Community Haven concept arrived when he pieced different pieces of programming together.
“We have our hands in quite a few areas,” he said.
Smith has worked throughout the Pittsburgh region and was steered toward McKees Rocks by housing authority officials who saw the need there.
“When I heard what his vision was, I thought this is what we need” in McKees Rocks, said Beverly Moore, ACHA executive director. So far, Smith has secured funding from the Hillman and PPG foundations and is hoping to get a commitment from the Heinz Endowments.
Some local officials also welcome the program.
“I’m very excited about the housing authority bringing this project here for this community,” Leslie Walker, vice president of the McKees Rocks council, said during a kickoff event Oct. 28.
Smith said he has also had productive discussions with school officials and incoming mayor Dave Flick.
“It’s not just going to be a Band-Aid on an open wound,” Smith said. “We're going to actually heal the community.”