Going to Town

Mennonite program brings interns to city projects
Photo by Lisa Kyle Going to Town
Rate this item
(0 votes)

When John Stahl-​Wert, then pastor of the Mennonite church in Pittsburgh, received a request from the national Church to design a program to strengthen the Mennonite community and impact the city, he knew what was needed.


I went home that evening and wrote on a single piece of paper that we would create a one-​year, post-​university volunteer/​intern program, and we would place artists, community builders and entrepreneurs in service assignments around the city where they would be impacted by the role models with whom they worked. Half a day a week, they would be in a seminar where they would learn about Pittsburgh, about being a good citizen, and would meet the Bill Stricklands of the city. My thought was that I could find young people who would come here and say ‘Wow! I can do something!’ ”

That became the PULSE project, which stands for Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience. It has attracted a steady flow of young people to the city over its 14 years, including interns at the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, the Thomas Merton Center, WYEP, the Warhol Museum, the River Life Task Force and Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. More than half of the 100 interns have made their home here after completing the program.

Stephan Bontrager, director of Outreach and Education for WYEP, is one. “PULSE gives young professionals an opportunity to get their foot in the door in an organization that is meaningful to them. I was placed at WYEP in 2001 and it has led to a pretty long career here.” Bontrager, in turn, mentored another WYEP intern, Heather Kropf, who has launched a successful career as a local vocalist.

The 2008 interns worked at City Theater, Wireless Neighborhoods, the Pittsburgh Mennonite Church, Storehouse for Teachers (a project of the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, which Stahl-​Wert now directs), United Steelworkers, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Venture Outdoors and the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. Three got full-​time jobs after their internships.

One of them, Layne Wyse, stayed on as a ceramics instructor at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, as another PULSE intern did two years ago. Keith Herschberger, now coordinator of the digital art program, said, “The decision I made to get in touch with John and participate in PULSE has shaped the course of my life, and I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else.”

The program has a ripple effect, said PULSE director Joe Allen. “Pittsburgh has become a hot spot for young Mennonites, because the interns tell their friends what a great place Pittsburgh is.” Allen is Catholic, and has done similar work with Jesuit institutions. PULSE doesn’t require the interns to be Mennonites, but they should be open to faith exploration and development. “There is no religious test,” said Allen, “but because most of the recruiting is done at Mennonite colleges and universities, the majority of the interns have been Mennonites.”

Interns receive a modest stipend and share a home on Stanton Avenue in Highland Park. “We offer a counter-​cultural antidote,” said Allen, “to the rampant individualism and materialism that dominates modern American culture. By focusing on the Mennonite values of sustainability, justice, stewardship and peacemaking, we seek to demonstrate the viability of a community-​based model.”

Mennonites typically come from a rural background and believe in a “theology of the land,” said Stahl-​Wert, who grew up as a farm hand in Lancaster “on the wagon, behind the bailer and in the chicken houses. Mennonites are a place-​focused people, and in a city setting they have a sensibility for urban spaces.”


Bette McDevitt

Bette grew up in New Castle and is a firmly planted transplant in Deutschtown on Pittsburgh’s North Side. She came to Pittsburgh to work at the Thomas Merton Center and met all the interesting people who came through the doors there. She met the rest of Pittsburgh as a freelance writer for the Pittsburgh Post-​Gazette and some magazines. Next to Pittsburgh, she loves Iceland best, but there’s not enough room to tell why.

Explore Related Stories:

Other stories in this category: « Personal Investment A New Initiative »
Welcome to Pittsburgh Quarterly
Win a two-night stay at Hotel Monaco

To enter to win a two-​night stay at Hotel Monaco plus dinner for two at The Commoner, sign up by June 20 for our great (and free) newsletter.

We’ll keep you updated with web-​only stories and art plus exclusive news and updates. Get more between the issues! Fill out the form below, and be sure to check your email for a link to confirm your subscription.

Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh is a fantastic revival of the beautiful James H. Reed building, originally erected in 1903. The classic building in Downtown Pittsburgh serves as a captivating destination for both leisure and business travelers journeying to the Steel City. The stunning Beaux Arts-​style of the building is perfectly matched with the locally inspired interior of the hotel, which is both vibrant and whimsical. The Commoner, adjacent to Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh, is an 120-​seat gastropub serving breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, helmed by executive chef Wyatt Lash. The restaurant’s menu showcases approachable, seasonal favorites, an expansive beer program and cocktails that lean toward the classics with an original twist.

Entry is open to anyone in the United States 18 years or older. Blackout dates may apply.

View past newsletters here.

Win a two-​night stay at Hotel Monaco plus dinner for two at The Commoner!

To enter, sign up below for our great (and free) newsletter by June 20. We’ll keep you updated with web-​only stories and art plus exclusive news and updates. Get more between the issues!

Already signed up? Please click the “Don’t Show This Again” button below

First Name(*)
Please let us know your name.

Last Name(*)
Invalid Input

Your Email(*)
Please let us know your email address.

Please check the box for security purposes.
Invalid Input

Don't have an account yet? Register Now!

Sign in to your account.