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Q & A: Gregg Behr

Tracy Certo
March11/ 2011

Why Kidsburgh?

In one word, “Kidsburgh” conveys an idea and sensibility that Pittsburgh is committed to improving the lives of children.  Plus, it’s aspirational — “Kidsburgh” commits us to work hard every day so that, on some future day, we can honestly say that Pittsburgh is the best place to be a kid and to raise kids on planet Earth.  Period.

Who’s working on this? 

Look at the leadership of Mark Roosevelt and now Linda Lane, John Tarka, the board, principals and teachers in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.  They’re setting the example for their students to dream big and work hard by aiming for nothing less than providing world-class instruction for all of their students.

From the 25,000 adults who mentor local children to the $250 million the community is raising in support of the Pittsburgh Promise to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s efforts to provide green spaces accessible to youth everywhere — this is a place increasingly committed to providing all children brilliant futures.

We see this commitment to kids in PNC’s Grow Up Great!campaign for quality early childhood learning; Kids Voice’s tenacious advocacy for abused, abandoned, and vulnerable children; and the Arts Education Collaborative’s comprehensive support for teaching artists.

Look at the child-centered art at the nationally-acclaimed Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh; the kid-friendly rooms at the cutting-edge Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; or the student-first design at such schools as Pine Richland’s Upper Eden Hall Elementary and Pittsburgh’s Science and Technology High School.

I could cite hundreds of fantastic examples — from the Toonseum to the Consortium for Public Education to Govern for Kids — but for me, one image conveys “Kidsburgh” beautifully — the statue of Fred Rogers, seated by the Allegheny River, keeping watch over Pittsburgh.  Kidsburgh, er…Pittsburgh, is his neighborhood after all.  So, it seems to me that we have a special honor to uphold.

If you could change one thing about Pittsburgh, what would it be?

I would wish for more uplifting and less sensational local news coverage (though I’d also like to see some truly investigative journalism); street vendors everywhere; remarkable customer service in state and local government; and a pennant race now and again.  Plus, I like what Don Marinelli (of Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center) says — I wish schools were a bit more like theme parks.

What are you most curious about these days?

Educational technologies for children.  We know that kids learn any time, any where — in school, at the library, in museums, on the playground, in their homes.  They are surrounded by a world rich information and experiences; and, significantly, that information and those experiences are often just a click away — on their computers, cameras, robots, mobile phones, and all sorts of gadgetry.  So, how do we infuse their gadgets with content that propels their curiosity and creativity?

If you had a million dollars to give personally to Pittsburgh, not through your foundation, what would you do with it?

Just one million?  Ugh.  There are too many things I’d like to do.  I might give it all to thePittsburgh Promise.  Or, maybe I’d support mobile arts labs for kids.  Of course, I have this dream that a waterfall and gardens grace Mt. Washington facing Point State Park…

What’s your favorite possession, big or small?

My modest wine collection.

Favorite thing to do?

To sit with my family and dogs outside on the deck on Sunday evenings and enjoy good wine along with food fresh from the farmer’s market.  Plus, if I’m lucky, my mom’s made a mud pie or my wife’s made a yellow cake with chocolate icing.

What is the reason you wake up in the morning? 

Other than my wife’s sleeping smile?

Truly, to do some good in this world.  I’m probably still naive but here’s what I see every day in most people:  decency, kindness, and caring.  I see a content in people’s character that’s fortunately incongruous from what I see all too often on television, read in the paper, or hear on talk radio.

Having the opportunity to work in philanthropy in support of, and in service to, educators, nonprofit professionals, volunteers, and donors, I witness goodness every single day — people who are, for example, working tirelessly to prepare kids to succeed in school, enrich classroom learning, or provide outstanding after school programs.  They’re doing amazing things for kids — quietly, respectfully, and without much, if any, recognition.  They’re the reason I awake in the morning.  They’re heroes to me.

As Executive Director of The Grable Foundation, Gregg Behr is a proud supporter of the Mentoring Partnership, WQED, the Toonseum, and lots of other organizations and people doing great work on behalf of children and youth across–where else?–Kidsburgh.

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen

Tracy Certo