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The Breathe Project has teamed with The Pittsburgh Foundation in an online youth engagement program for local middle and high school students.

 

The program, known as New Voices of Youth, the fourth of its kind for The Pittsburgh Foundation, gives young people in southwestern Pennsylvania an opportunity to make their voices heard about important community issues that affect their lives. Participants in this year’s program are being asked to develop projects that raise awareness about air quality challenges in the Pittsburgh area and help to clean the region’s air.

 

“Young people are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution because they tend to spend more time outdoors and their lungs are still developing,” said Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. “We are excited to work with the Breathe Project to deliver information and encouragement that will allow youth to take a lead role in providing solutions for cleaner air.”

 

In the fall of 2011, The Heinz Endowments launched the Breathe Project, a coalition made up of businesses, including heavy metals manufacturers and power producers; environmental nonprofits; government; civic organizations; and individuals working to improve air quality for healthy families and a stronger economy. The New Voices of Youth program will help to engage youth as agents of change in this growing movement to achieve a clean-air future for southwestern Pennsylvania.

 

“Thankfully, much of the highly visible pollution that earned Pittsburgh the title of ‘Smoky City’ a century ago is long gone,” said Endowments President Robert Vagt. “But with the dangerous health effects of pollutants better quantified, the region has not kept up with more stringent standards and its air quality ranks among the worst in the nation.” Vagt said the broad coalition that achieved a dramatic turnaround in air quality in the 1940s and 1950s must be re-activated to achieve the same success in this decade. “Young people as a group are essential to this effort,” said Vagt. “They are more attuned to the issues than many other groups and they understand the change that is possible with group action.”

 

Participants will work with adult mentors to design projects that increase awareness and take action for cleaner air in the Pittsburgh region. Projects also can create first-time opportunities for young people to participate as volunteers or in a service-learning opportunity to improve our air quality.

 

Detailed information about the program, including resources for teachers and an educational toolkit about air quality, is available at a special website developed as a hub to support the initiative at www.new-voices-of-youth.org.

 

Entries should be submitted at the site. The closing date for the first round of entries is May 8, 2013. Regular updates will be posted on the New Voices of Youth website detailing progress on student projects.

 

A Student Advisory Council composed of 15 local high school students will meet periodically to review entries and select finalists. Top entries are eligible for up to $2,500 in grant funding from The Pittsburgh Foundation to turn their ideas into action in this hands-on approach to community philanthropy.

 

Young people are also encouraged to participate in an online forum on the site by sharing photographs, essays, artwork, ideas and comments that may help improve submitted entries and inspire new projects.

 

The Voices of Youth series of competitions kicked off in 2009 with Art in Public, and was followed by two additional competitions encouraging youth and youth-serving organizations to create change.

 

“We are excited to continue working with our area youth on ideas to better our community with the New Voices of Youth,” said Oliphant.

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