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Humanitarian Spotlight

By: Will Halim

At Storyburgh, we aim to give voice to marginalized demographics and the individuals and organizations that champion their causes. Over the past year we have shared and written a number of stories that highlight the efforts of these activists and humanitarians, but three in particular stood out. In a showing of gratitude for the opportunity to share their stories and showcase the people they have helped, we are profiling Sister Janice Vanderneck of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Shacoya Bates of Every Child, Inc., and Anthony Stewart of DECO Resources to catch-up and see what they are currently focusing on, and what 2018 has in store for their organizations.
To read the original stories, or to participate in story production, visit www.storyburgh.org

Sister Janice Vanderneck
Featured in “Sister Janice”

“I’m passionate and get involved in everything that I do, because I think it needs to be done,” Sister Janice Vanderneck said with a laugh. “I don’t have much spare time.”

Vanderneck has been with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden for 50 years and is a prominent figure in the Southwestern Pennsylvania Latino community for just as long. She became infatuated with the culture at a young age, as well as with her Catholic religion. But before she became a Sister, Vanderneck was a missionary in Brazil and other South American countries for four years, and went on to teach Spanish in Pennsylvania and Florida. The school she taught at in Florida was south of Miami in a town called Perrine where many of her students and their parents were immigrants who only spoke Spanish.

It was her time as a teacher and missionary that revealed to her the poverty and lack of services for Latinos in the United States and abroad. Today, she is making sure that immigrants in Pittsburgh have a safe place to receive services, regardless of legal status.

In 2013, Casa San Jose was opened to honor and support Vanderneck’s ongoing work. Now located in Beechview, the space will continue to provide social services, health and legal advice to undocumented immigrants, and prepare them for situations with Immigration Customs Enforcement.

“It’s good to be present in the community where most of our clients live,” Vanderneck said. “Public transportation is very good, and the space is more adequate.”

Over the past year, Vanderneck has gained notoriety in the media for her activism during the Martin Esquivel-Hernandez case, a local father of three who was deported in February. The case gained national attention and sparked a larger immigration debate.

“ICE is arresting and taking fathers from families to be deported, and breaking-up families,” Vanderneck said. “Additionally, I am very engaged to garner support for the Dreamers and giving them an opportunity to stay in this country legally, and have a work license.” Dreamers are undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

Lately, Vanderneck has been pleased with the youth programs provided by Casa San Jose for Latino immigrant children and teens at Beechwood Elementary School, Brashear High School, and Brookline Teen Outreach. Vanderneck said these programs allow children the opportunity to learn and, “Feel safe and understood”, when so much of their lives are filled with fear of ICE knocking on their doors.

It’s also hard to have a good sense of identity. “It’s very difficult for low-income immigrants to figure out what culture [they] actually belong in,” Vanderneck said.

For more information on Casa San Jose
or to volunteer,
visit www.casasanjose.org.


Shacoya Bates
Featured in, “Loving A 24-Hour Child” & “In This House There Isn’t Chaos”

Shacoya Bates said she has always been a person who feels, “A lot of joy and satisfaction from being able to help others. Especially when they want to accomplish something and I can help them with their goals,” Bates said. “I like seeing growth in people.” As the SWAN Program Supervisor and Caregiver Family Support Program Coordinator for Every Child, Inc., it seems that she has found her niche.

Before landing at Every Child, Bates worked at the Western Psychiatric Institute where she met a coworker named Kim Davis who inspired and validated her mission. Bates said in her profession, it isn’t out of the ordinary to be told not to go the extra mile with clients, but Davis applauded Bates’ tenacity. “She made me look deeper into myself, so I can positively effect the people I bring in as staff. I want them to be as passionate [as myself] and care about the work we are providing and the communities we serve,” Bates said.

Bates said the work she and her colleagues are doing now is shaping how future generations will receive social services. She has faced stereotypes from parents, who think it’s a caseworker’s prerogative to take their children away, but Bates wants to bridge that gap. “I let communities know that we are there for them, and that starts with teaching workers to develop positive relationships with parents and the communities,” Bates said.

Recently, Bates has been focusing much of her time on the Family Caregiver Support program that provides services to relatives, family members, and other caregivers that have taken in children. Bates said a large reason for this is due to the opioid epidemic that is sweeping the country. The program specifically helps those who are not receiving aid from Child Welfare or the Juvenile Court System, and it provides services that promote well-being and support healthy positive functioning between child[ren] and caregivers.

The Pregnancy Program is another service from Every Child that Bates is reshaping, which links expectant mothers with trained doulas. A doula is a person who supports pregnant women before, during, and after pregnancy. Those with little to no support in birth education can be paired with a doula through the Pregnancy Program and be referred to other service providers when needed.

“I want to let the communities know that we are [here] for them,” Bates said.

For a list of services or to volunteer with Every Child, visit www.everychildinc.org.


Anthony Stewart
Featured in, “The Power To Save Lives” & “Lead Laden Soil”

Anthony Stewart, president and environmental director of DECO Resources, said he initially tried to avoid a career in the sciences because of his family’s extensive background in the subject. In elementary school, Stewart’s mom was also his science teacher, and his grandfather had been her science professor in college. In 1976, his grandmother founded the first female-owned laboratory in Pennsylvania, and his father is a chemist who owned the family laboratory until recently.

Upon entering college, Stewart pursued a degree in visual arts, but within a few years he found himself studying sustainable development during a semester at sea. He traveled to eight different countries and was taught by professors from all over the world. Stewart said he was able to learn how each country managed their water systems through different types of infrastructure, and how they dealt with social issues through sustainability.

Professor Chris Gordon, director of the Institute of Environmental and Sanitation Studies at the University of Ghana, had a particularly large impact on Stewart. It was Gordon who taught him the importance of water quality and security for all.

“So that was really, I think, the launching point with knowing that this is what I wanted to do,” Stewart said. At the time, he was studying at Clarion University, but after returning to the states he transferred to the University of Pittsburgh for its environmental studies major. One day nearing graduation, Stewart was grabbing lunch at the Carson Street Deli in the South Side. He noticed a rain barrel outside of the building, and found out it belonged to an environmental company on the second floor.

Stewart researched the company and then went to meet with them. “I went in and said, ‘You can pay, or I’m going to work for free, but I’m going to work for you,’ and they hired me on and that was literally the beginning of my career.” Stewart was hired as an environmental consultant, and managed water contamination and solar-powered treatment systems for communities in developing nations.

He traveled to Brazil to learn about a ground water remediation project, and then to Nigeria to implement the system. While there, Stewart’s company ran out of money. His boss told him that had fired everyone, and when he returned, his job was next. “My head was spinning. Then I thought, ‘What if we sell this system?’ “

Stewart and his boss put together a plan with two of their Nigerian contacts which resulted in a signed contract for $27 million, although some specifics are still being clarified.

After returning to the states, he had only one project to oversee for the company, and that wasn’t enough to make ends meet. He began testing water for the environmental company out of his dad’s laboratory, and started consulting for a friend’s construction company.

“I was basically working for three different companies on several different projects, and a year later I said, ‘I can turn this into a company,’ “ Stewart said. His goal was to provide green solutions following the process of design, engineering, construction, and operations, “Hence the name, DECO.”

Currently, Stewart is working on a project with a local elementary school to, “Create a backbone for a new type of infrastructure that doesn’t rely on power grids.” The elementary school will be powered by an aquaponics system combined with solar panels, and the students will learn how to write code that will be used to run the pumps and other functions in the aquaponics system. He has also been working with the Pittsburgh Hop Company, and implemented an irrigation system using similar technology.

“As our world becomes more digital, there are so many cool opportunities of what we can do with technology,” Stewart said.

For more information on DECO Resources,
visit www.deco-resources.com.