CENTER OF LIFE (COL) IS A COMMUNITY-EMPOWERMENT ORGANIZATION LOCATED IN THE GREATER HAZELWOOD NEIGHBORHOOD OF PITTSBURGH, PA.
Our programs focus on music and arts, athletics, and education. Our vision is to empower and equip families to bring economic revitalization to their communities. Our mission is to provide families and youth with the life-skills, education, training, and resources necessary to be strong and to make their communities strong. We believe this is achieved through building sustainable partnerships locally, nationally, and internationally. At Center of Life we believe everything is about people.
About Center of Life
Founded in 2002 by Tim Smith, Center of Life (COL) stands with the people of Hazelwood as they strive to be strong and to make their community strong. With its roots planted deeply in the community and supported by extraordinary partners, Center of Life serves Hazelwood and its surrounding communities with rich academic out-of-school programs and outstanding experiences in music and arts. Center of Life employs a holistic approach to community through all of its programs, believing that commitment to others is most productive when you walk with those served in their schools, homes and families.
We are proudly located in the Hazelwood community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Once the center of the steel industry in Pittsburgh, Hazelwood has suffered major losses in the past few decades. As the steel industry left the community, so did stores, schools and resources. At Center of Life we believe revitalization for Hazelwood comes from within the community, and we work with community members to help Hazelwood become the community it desires to be.
TO PROVIDE FAMILIES AND YOUTH WITH THE LIFE SKILLS, EDUCATION, TRAINING, AND RESOURCES NECESSARY TO BE STRONG AND TO MAKE THEIR COMMUNITIES STRONG.
TO EMPOWER AND EQUIP FAMILIES TO BRING ECONOMIC REVITALIZATION TO THEIR COMMUNITIES.
A LETTER FROM TIM SMITH, OUR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Sixteen years ago, I designed my first Center of Life cards, on which I put a personal note: “If you want to see lives changed for the better, you have to be willing to be there when it happens. Whatever it takes, however long it takes. It’s an inside job.” This was my challenge to myself and my commitment to the Hazelwood community. I wanted to be honest with myself right out of the gate that underserved communities don’t change overnight - economic discrimination impacts families for generations.
I entered what I call the “University of Hazelwood” when I came to the community in 1980, twenty years before Center of Life was born. I spent those intervening years focused on listening to residents and learning about Hazelwood. The stories about the community that residents shared with me became the blueprint for services that Center of Life would later provide.
After sixteen years, Center of Life has been around long enough to see our original group of children graduate not only from elementary school, but from college. Some have even returned to become part of our staff. We’ve also seen families empowered to control their own economy. Through it all, we’ve seen the resilience of a community that, over generations, has persevered in the face of systemic injustice.
As we look to the future, our goal is to be in Hazelwood another sixteen years and beyond, continuing our work to strengthen families and educate youth through music and the arts. Working together with community leaders and partners, we hope to continue building the capacity of this community so that each new generation is stronger than the last. Sixteen years after that first note to myself, this remains our challenge and our commitment.
Board of Directors
Timothy L. Smith, Sr.
President and Executive Director
Paulo Nzambi, Chairperson
CEO & Head of School, Imani Christian Academy
Terry Fuller, Vice Chairperson
Lifelong resident of Hazelwood
Melissa Wagner, M. Ed., Secretary
Principal, Pittsburgh Public Schools
John Lubimir, Treasurer
President, Eastwood Recycling Group, Inc.
Project Director, UPMC Health Plan
Interim Executive Director, The Pittsburgh Project
Rodney Hopson, Ph.D.
Professor, College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University
Fr. Daniel Walsh, C.S.Sp.
Formation Director of Spiritan Seminarians and Campus Minister, Duquesne University
Rose Velgich, M. Ed.
Teacher of the Deaf, Elementary Department, DePaul School for Hearing and Speech; Resident of Hazelwood
Dwayne J. Rankin
Community Development Loan Officer,
Senior Analyst, West Penn Regional Center
Associate Professor, Duquesne University
Lifelong resident of Hazelwood
Tim is the Executive Director of Center of Life and pastor of the Keystone Church of Hazelwood. He has been working with children and youth for over 25 years. Tim was born and raised in Pittsburgh and educated in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. He is a graduate of Westinghouse High School and holds degrees from Triangle Tech, The University of Pittsburgh, the Leadership Training Institute, the American Institute of Banking as well as a diploma from the Reformed Theological Seminary. Tim has dedicated his life to empowering families and youth everywhere.
Sam joined COL in 2009 following 25 years with the Pittsburgh-based electric utility Duquesne Light Company. Sam brings his experience from finance, accounting, auditing and senior management to COL. Sam is responsible for all finance-related areas from payroll and budgeting to forecasting and reporting. He also works directly with Tim Smith in research and development of funding opportunities for Center of Life programs.
Alexa first joined Center of Life in 2013 as an AmeriCorps VISTA prior to accepting her current position. After gaining invaluable knowledge while studying abroad during her undergraduate career, Alexa knew she had to make an impact in her hometown. Working at Center of Life has enabled Alexa to turn her dream of helping strengthen Pittsburgh communities into a reality. Being inspired through her work at Center of Life to learn more about nonprofit management, she graduated in 2018 with a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh.
Born and raised on the Northside of Pittsburgh, community has always been important to Patrick — and that’s the mindset he brings to Center of Life. Patrick believes as the individuals who come to Center of Life begin to thrive, so too will the Hazelwood community and the surrounding areas. Growing up as an inner-city kid, graduate of The Linsly School, and graduate summa cum laude of Duquesne University, Patrick understands the path and the necessary steps to help those in need in the Hazelwood community. As a past fundraising professional on behalf of large charities, working at Center of Life not only provides Patrick the opportunity to use his past experience, but more importantly, to watch miracles happen, firsthand.
Neil Martin is the Business and Compliance Manager at Center of Life. As a former KRUNK student and summer camp instructor, Neil has been a member of the organization since the early 2000’s. With a passion for people, his focus is to improve the lives of those in the community as well as those on staff. A graduate of Pittsburgh Public Schools, The Linsly School and The University of Michigan, he aims to utilize his passion to elevate the socio-economic trajectory of as many families as possible.
Douglas is the Multi-Media and Technology Director at Center of Life. Since the age of five when his mother signed him up for piano lessons and his father “volunteered” him to run sound for their local church, he has spent his entire life working with music and the technology surrounding music. After getting his Bachelor of Arts in Film and Video Production from The Pennsylvania State University, his love for exploring the intersection of art and technology has taken him across the country and around the world as a musician and filmmaker. That love, along with a passion for using his gifts to try and make a difference in the world, has brought Douglas here to Hazelwood and Center of Life.
Emma Curtis comes to Center of Life after two years as an Americorps VISTA, during which she did extensive research on best practices in nonprofit communications with a focus on the Pittsburgh area. Additionally, she has a multifaceted background in design and storytelling, from interning at stop-motion animation collective Tiny Circus, to sitting on the board of Reel Q Film Festival, to working as a freelance graphic designer. She brings all her knowledge and experience to Center of Life’s communications department, where she works to make sure COL’s story is heard far and wide through a variety of media. Emma graduated from Grinnell College with a degree in Psychology.
Joy Cannon began her career at Center of Life as a tutor in 2013 and quickly developed a bond with Hazelwood students and families. In the ensuing years, she gained further experience in various roles at Center of Life and graduated from Duquesne University with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Social Justice and Policy. As a lifelong youth worker, Joy appreciates using her experiences to help students reach their fullest potential.
Sarah Crawshaw was born and raised on the Northside of Pittsburgh. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Mercyhurst University and a Master’s in Secondary English Education from Carlow University. Sarah spent six years teaching middle and high school English in Charleston, South Carolina, including three years as the English Department Chair. She then moved overseas, where she spent two years teaching English at a secondary school in Sheffield, England. Sarah is passionate about education and loves helping students learn how their strengths can enable them to be successful in all aspects of life. In addition, inspired by her practice overseas, she strives to expose her students to diverse experiences and cultures.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Malcolm has worked with youth throughout high school and in various roles as an undergraduate at Duquesne University. After earning his bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Sociology in 2017, he followed his passion for education and obtained his master’s in Education Administration in 2018. Malcolm has filled his time in Pittsburgh growing his leadership capacity by participating in the Chuck Cooper Scholarship Program, interning with the Hillman Family Foundations, and working with the youth in Pittsburgh as a mentor and tutor as a member of Duquesne’s Collegiate 100. As a longtime youth advocate, he brings his experiences and unique skills to help students be the best at all aspects of their lives.
Julian grew up in Braddock, and first joined Center of Life in 2004 as a student in both The KRUNK Movement and COL Jazz. He graduated from Woodland Hills High School and went on to study Music Business Management at Berklee College of Music, where he graduated in 2011. Julian started his career as a touring musician when he was only 16, and after college he continued touring with bands both nationally and internationally for several years, including a six-month tour in Japan with the band SOUL PLAY. Now based in Pittsburgh, Julian is thrilled to return to Center of Life as an educator and share the skills he’s learned with a new generation of students. When he’s not teaching at Center of Life, Julian is a member of the bands Afro Yaqui Music Collective and Starship Mantis, as well as running his own sound studio, DDPro Studios.
Lucas Mickens is the Coordinator of The Krunk Movement. He began his music career in a “dormitory-closet-turned-professional-studio” with his friends at Albright College, where he won a championship playing Men’s Basketball. He graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor’s of Political Science and Philosophy. With aspirations to become a lawyer, not only is Lucas a true student of Hip Hop with a keen sense of detail, but he is a true artist who produces his own music as well. His plan is to pass down The Wisdom to youth while simultaneously teaching them how to build a brand that generates revenue. Know Thy Self.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Jourdan Martin was one of the first students involved in The KRUNK Movement. He attended Pittsburgh’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, where he studied the violin. After spending some time in Chicago, he came back home to Pittsburgh to help grow The KRUNK Movement. As a rapper, producer, DJ, and sound engineer, he is able to draw on many different skills to provide a well-rounded curriculum for his students. Jourdan loves that he is able to spend his days doing two things he enjoys, working with youth and making music.
Geraldine Massey received her Master’s degree at Carlow University for Professional Counselor/Drug and Alcohol Counselor in December 2014. She previously worked for Allegheny County Juvenile Probation/CISP as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor and at the Center for Victims as a Therapist. Geraldine has three living children and two deceased sons. She is extremely happy to have joined the Center of Life family as the Family Engagement Coordinator.
Maurice brings to this job life-long experiences from growing up within the Hazelwood community. He is dedicated to giving all kids the chances he experienced while growing up in Hazelwood
Qiyam Ansari grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and attended Washington & Jefferson College, where he double majored in Business Administration and Environmental Science. He has previously worked as a youth mentor through organizations like the Black Male Leadership Development Institute and AmeriCorps. Before coming to Center of Life, Qiyam became familiar with Hazelwood through a position at Propel Schools, and he is happy that his role at Center of Life allows him to contribute even more to the Hazelwood community. In his free time, he is working to grow the online art platform he founded, Liberations Art.