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Dr. Kathi Elliott, Gwen’s Girls Executive Director Wins Pittsburgh Steelers’ Changemaker Award

“We are honored to present this award to Dr. Kathi Elliott for her groundbreaking work in providing a continuum of care and services to girls and families in our region who are facing poverty, racism, and violence,” said Blayre Holmes Davis, Director of Community Relations for the Steelers, in a release. “She continues to carry on the vision and legacy of her mother and late founder, Pittsburgh Police Commander Gwen Elliott, by pushing for gender equitable policies and practices to ensure that all girls – but specifically Black girls – have enriching lives through providing them with all the tools to become the best versions of themselves. She is truly a treasure to our community.”

Not surprisingly, Dr. Elliott, in an exclusive interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier regarding winning the award, spoke less about herself and more about her organization, Gwen’s Girls.

First things first; the $10,000 donation from the NFL Foundation, which is paid directly to a non-profit organization of Dr. Elliott’s choice, was paid to Gwen’s Girls. Second, Dr. Elliott touted the early success of the “Caring Connections for YOUth” program, led by Gwen’s Girls and the Black Girls Equity Alliance. The program launched in December 2022, allows parents, school officials, police officers, and judges the opportunity to call “211” instead of “911” to provide children in Allegheny County with the support services they may need.

The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned exclusively that in the program’s first year of operation, 134 families were assisted by the service through Gwen’s Girls staff members, 90 percent of whom were Black families. The majority of the calls to 211 were made by those affiliated with schools, Dr. Elliott explained in an interview with The Courier. Gwen’s Girls officials have been meeting and working with Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Wayne Walters, school officials, and district social workers to implement the program.

Meetings were held with county judges and Pittsburgh police, as well, Dr. Elliott said. The overarching theme, Dr. Elliott said, is to “heighten the awareness of the number of young people who are referred to the juvenile justice system, and especially Black youth disproportionately … and getting them to understand how [the Caring Connections for YOUth program] can better serve them by referring them to community-based interventions and services.”

As an example, Dr. Elliott said parents or schools call 211 to report parent-child conflicts, or that a child isn’t attending school regularly. A member of the Gwen’s Girls staff will get in contact with the child’s parent or guardian, and begin the process of determining how the child can best be supported through a partner agency, such as the Boys and Girls Club.

Dr. Elliott said Gwen’s Girls staff continues to build a relationship with the family throughout the year to make sure additional support and services are provided if needed.

The Caring Connections for YOUth website said calls to 211 could also be made if a boy or girl up to age 18 has been involved in disorderly conduct, fighting, and minor drug possession. The 211 line is open 24/7.

“We have a lot of supports and services on the front end,” Dr. Elliott told The Courier. “We don’t want to wait until [young people) have been arrested or are being referred to the magistrate.”

If we can prevent our young people from coming into the system or being exposed to the trajectory of the system, we are a lot better off; not only them as individuals, but also the community.”