University of Pittsburgh
January 11, 2006

Pitt-Sponsored Exhibition and Publication, From Colored Orphans to Youth Development, Celebrate 125-Year History of Pittsburgh-Based Three Rivers Youth (TRY) During Black History Month

Show at Heinz History Center Jan. 28-March 5 includes vintage photographs, video footage, printed materials, and artifacts telling the story of pathbreaking area institution, caring since 1880 for youth in need TRY is oldest agency in Allegheny County founded to serve Black children and the second-oldest such agency in the nation; its service has won national recognition in recent years
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH-On a dreary, rainy day in 1880, Nellie Grant, an orphaned little Black girl no more than 4 or 5 years old, was found wandering the streets of Pittsburgh's North Side (then called Allegheny City) by Reverend J.M. Fulton, the White pastor of Fourth United Presbyterian Church.

Because no institution in the city would take in a "colored" child, Fulton turned to a prominent White civic leader, Julia Blair, who immediately worked with the Women's Christian Association to found the Home for Colored Children, which today-after a number of name and address changes and more than one set of clients-is the multiracial Three Rivers Youth (TRY), whose central mission has remained the care of neglected, abused, abandoned, and otherwise needy youth. TRY's origins in the late 19th century brought together the privileged of Pittsburgh with the least privileged in a remarkable forerunner of today's Pittsburgh philanthropy.

From Jan. 28 to March 5, the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, 1212 Smallman St., will have on display an exhibition titled "From Colored Orphans to Youth Development: The 125-Year History of Three Rivers Youth, 1880-2005," produced by the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Public Affairs and sponsored by that office and Pitt's Office of the Chancellor, with additional support from the Grable Foundation.

Mounted in observance of Black History Month, the exhibition and its accompanying historical publication will tell in detail the unique story of the pathbreaking TRY-a social service organization that has persevered and then prospered through a succession of committed board members and leaders, both Black and White, from its beginnings in segregated late-19th-century America through two world wars, the Great Depression, and the civil rights movement to its present-day achievements of helping youth in need to succeed and prosper as adults.

TRY is the oldest agency in Pennsylvania founded to serve Black orphans, later evolving to serve youth and families, and the second-oldest such agency in the nation. In recent years, it has been recognized nationally for innovative programs and policies and regionally as one of the most notable agencies providing comprehensive services for a wide age range of youth, without regard to race. In 2002, it was a finalist for the Forbes Fund's Wishart Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management.

"Through the exhibition and publication, the University of Pittsburgh is pleased to recognize the resolve and the inspired forces behind the longevity and success of Three Rivers Youth," said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. "By doing so, we honor the men and women who have struggled, persevered, and achieved in their efforts to advance its mission for the last 125 years. We also honor our region's age-old spirit of philanthropy that, time and again, has enabled Pittsburgh institutions such as Three Rivers Youth to serve the needs of others."

"This exhibition and publication on the history of Three Rivers Youth do more than weave the pieces together," commented TRY Chief Executive Officer Peggy B. Harris. "They remind us of a time in Pittsburgh before the turn of the century when the racial climate would not allow colored children into orphanages, and they introduce us to a group of people who were courageous enough to do something about it.

"The history, then, does more than chronicle the organization's evolution from the Home for Colored Children to today's Three Rivers Youth: It celebrates our courage, our leadership, and our resiliency," Harris added. "But perhaps the most important reason to publish this history is to remember the lives and the plight of some 300,000 youth and families who have been part of this 125-year history. This is their story, it's part of Pittsburgh's story, and it's part of America's story."

"An institution founded out of a mission of caring for the homeless, familyless, and desperate has served valiantly for more than 125 years," said Samuel Black, curator of African American Collections at the History Center. "This exhibition helps us to gain a greater understanding of the philanthropy and service of Pittsburghers to meet the needs of our youth."

The 60-page publication, published by Pitt Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Robert Hill and designed within the Pitt Office of Public Affairs by Pitt University Marketing Communications (UMC) Graphic Designer Amy Porta under the direction of UMC Creative Director Marci Belchick, includes an introduction by Pitt Associate Professor of History Laurence Glasco for a detailed historical text by Pitt doctoral student Patricia Pugh Mitchell and Margaret C. Albert; it is illustrated throughout with photographs of people, buildings, and artifacts spanning TRY's 125 years. The publication has been made possible by the Office of the Chancellor and the Office of Public Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh; its advisory committee included Black, Glasco, Pitt Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for University News and Magazine John Harvith, and Pitt alumnus Arif Jamal (MLIS '98), Buhl Social Work Librarian in Pitt's Hillman Library. The publication will be on sale in the History Center museum shop and also will be available through TRY at 2039 Termon Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, call TRY at 412-766-2215 or visit its Web site,

The exhibition, designed by Belchick, will, through enlargements of vintage photographs, put the visitor in little Nellie's shoes, walking through the dank atmosphere of inclement late-19th-century Pittsburgh streets, standing outside a two-dimensional replica of one of the original Home for Colored Children buildings complemented by an original 38-star U.S. flag set in a vintage flagpole base, and seeing a three-dimensional replica of a late-19th-century swing set like the ones used by the Home's children. An illustrated mural will give an historical TRY timeline, while illuminated showcases will display original photographs of various TRY residences, children, and staff members over the years; ledger books giving the names, ages, and dates of admission of children; annual reports; the applications for children wanting to be admitted; the writings of resident children, including poetry; letters accompanying donations to TRY from the 1920s on; newspaper clippings; and a wooden card catalog, containing information on the children living in TRY homes. Running continually will be a compilation of video footage of TRY children residents and staff members from the 1950s to the present, some of the footage silent and some with an audio track. And Pittsburgh artist Saihou Njie, a native of Gambia, presents in a batik painting his interpretation of what Nellie would have looked like.

Both the publication and the exhibition conclude by depicting TRY as it functions today, with a diverse network of programs, including the Hub Outreach Center in Pittsburgh's Strip District that serves runaway and homeless youth ages 21 and under; the Loft Program for Runaway and Homeless Youth in Wilkinsburg that provides a safe shelter for runaway youth, reaches out to those at risk of running away, and provides a 24-hour hotline for youth and families; the Transitional Living Program in Wilkinsburg that provides shelter, counseling, and skill development to assist homeless youth ages 16-21 to complete the transition to independence; the Family Partnership Program in Wilkinsburg, an intensive 12-week, in-home, crisis-intervention program designed to maintain the safety of children in their own homes and assist families in obtaining services; five therapeutic group homes located in Mt. Lebanon, McMurray, and Pittsburgh for youth ages 13-18 who have been victims of abuse and neglect and have experienced failures at home or in school; and Three Rivers Youth Training Institute, dedicated to improving the standards and effectiveness of training and services offered by social services agencies for childcare workers, supervisors, clinicians, and caseworkers.

In February 1926, Carter G. Woodson initiated what he then called "Negro History Week," in the hope that all Americans would be reminded of their ethnic roots and of their responsibilities to build upon history. He chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. It was Woodson's firm belief that, as he once observed, "Truth comes down to us from the past … like gold washed down from the mountains." Woodson devoted his life to making "the world see the Negro as a participant rather than as a lay figure in history." Over time, Negro History Week evolved into the Black History Month that we know today-a four-week-long celebration of African American history.

The Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and the largest history museum in Pennsylvania. The History Center also includes the Library & Archives and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and is associated with the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life, a Save America's Treasures site, in Avella, Pa. More information is available at