Joey and Christy Porter develop a former church and school into a Sheraden community hub
This article first appeared in NEXTpittsburgh, a media partner that focuses on the people advancing the Pittsburgh region.
Photo: Founders Joey Porter, Christy Houston Porter and Councilwoman Theresa Kail Smith perform the ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 5 for the Dr. Phillip Birdine Learning Center.
Sheraden received a Hail Mary from a former Pittsburgh Steeler.
On June 5, Joey Porter, who was a linebacker for the team, and his wife Christy Porter, welcomed the community to the Jasmine Nyree Campus on the grounds of the former Holy Innocents Church and School at 3011 Landis St, which has been vacant for 15 years. One of the five buildings on the campus has officially reopened as the Dr. Phillip Birdine Learning Center and the Jermone Bettis Gym.
The community hub, which includes a computer lab, job center, library and daycare, will provide free after-school and summer programming to hundreds of K-12 students from Pittsburgh Public Schools. The campus is also a much-needed resource for adults ages 21 and over with developmental issues. The Porters’ daughter, Jasmine Nyree, was born with severe autism. She turns 23 on June 14.
Unable to find the right kind of services for Jasmine in their hometown of Bakersfield, California, the Porters opened their own facility there in 2003 to serve children and adults with special needs.
Through a partnership with Giant Eagle, the Jasmine Nyree Campus also serves as a pick-up point for online grocery orders and a distribution center for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, providing up to 125 boxes of dry goods a month to Sheraden residents.
Plans for the facility started in 2019, when the Porters, who live in Wexford, purchased the church property.
The campus is made up of four buildings. A fifth structure, the actual former church on Landis Street, is owned by the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. The Patricia Jean Administration Building, named in memory of Joey Porter’s mother, opened in June 2020.
Later this year, the campus will get a cafeteria, coffee shop, bakery, conference rooms, a mental health clinic, laundromat, drug and alcohol treatment facility, cosmetology school and employment hub where people can earn their GED, complete college applications and receive job training.
The project’s final phase, a collaboration with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), will open in early 2022. It consists of a 40-unit apartment building for low-income seniors, veterans with disabilities and adults with special needs.
Diamonte Walker, the URA’s deputy executive director, says the organization has invested $1.1 million in the Jasmine Nyree Campus because bringing the buildings back to life will benefit the entire neighborhood. Sheraden is part of the Avenues of Hope initiative, a collaboration between the city and the URA to reprioritize business district investments in largely Black and diverse neighborhoods.
Christy Porter says hope is the driving force behind the work she began nearly 20 years ago on the West Coast.
“Our mission is to be great neighbors and service providers,” she says.