Partner Profile: Project Love Coalition
For this months Partner Profile, we got to know Project Love Coalition, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering veterans to restore love, pride, and purpose in their neighborhoods. We spoke with Kent Bey, the President/CEO, to learn more about their organization and the projects they have underway.
Let’s get started… give us your elevator pitch!
The Project Love Coalition mission is to spread love and advocate on behalf of veterans and their families in the areas of housing, workforce development and community building. We are currently engaged in developing our agricultural entrepreneurship + workforce development program which is a component of our Green S.E.N.S.E. initiative.
That’s a powerful mission, what motivated the founders to start PLC and who do you serve?
Project Love Coalition was originally started by a group of Americans of African descent who took notice of the disinvestment in their urban communities specifically known as the Hill District and Homewood community sectors of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Among this group were veterans who also live in these neighborhoods.
These veterans took the initiative to form a unique organization to encourage diverse community partnerships dedicated to the universal spread of love in our mission to uplift fallen humanity, which includes bringing attention to food justice for our neighborhoods. We primarily serve all low income, marginalized people with special initiatives geared toward veterans and African Americans.
What specific needs are you addressing?
- Supportive services for veterans and their families
- Access to local healthy food for low income neighborhoods
- Suitable employment for veterans
- Cultural centered community building in disinvested neighborhoods
- Housing for veterans who are homeless or were formerly homeless but in need of a more stable, suitable, and healthy environment.
- Project Love Coalition is making efforts to connect veterans with other community residents and veterans’ affairs pipelines that enable them to be workforce assets and leaders in neighborhood sustainability.
There aren’t too many organizations out there that combine local food and veteran support. What else makes your organization stand out? Do you have any new projects or events coming up that you’d like to share with the FSLN community?
Project Love Coalition is veteran focused and accordingly all activities we are involved in are veteran-led and encourage non-veteran participants from the neighborhoods we serve. Currently, we are engaged in building our Agri-Green Space and Learning Garden which we have on the calendar to be completed in 2019. We are currently seeking funding support for our Agri-Green Space and Learning Garden project which will involve getting insurance to begin building on an empty lot/parcel owned by the City of Pittsburgh in the Hill District neighborhood. The learning garden will consist of an 8'x20' working model vertical garden connected to an aquaponic system where the community can come and learn alongside veterans growing healthy food on a limited urban footprint.
Starting and leading impactful organizations is tough – have you had any individual or organizational role models that have inspired your work or helped guide you along your journey?
Absolutely yes! Project Love Coalition looks toward many as role models in our work such as:
- Soul Fire Farm which is committed to ending racism and injustice in our food system.
- Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op for demonstrating locally that there is agricultural interest among some people of African descent.
- Pittsburgh Food Policy Council for its ability to address the concerns of Food Justice in our region.
- National Young Farmers Coalition (Western Pennsylvania Chapter) in its courage to expand the national efforts to recruit young farmers.
- Penn State Extension for its Agricultural curriculum.
- The American Legion for their efforts to build or renovate homes for veterans.
- Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania for their ability to centralize support service organizations that seek to help veterans.
- Veterans Place on Washington Boulevard for their bold step to introduce a new housing option for homeless veterans.
- Robert Morris University for its Business curriculum and special initiatives to provide proof of concepts for innovative veterans housing.
- University of Pittsburgh for their business of humanitarian curriculum efforts in the region.
- Carnegie Mellon University for their bold innovative architectural and technological sciences curriculum
That’s an incredible list of shout-outs!
How has PLC evolved over the years?
Project Love Coalition started representing and advocating on behalf of veterans in public demonstrations by addressing the homeless crisis impacting veterans locally and abroad. No matter what we do we will remain committed to eradicating the homelessness among veterans at home or wherever a veteran needs help. We also realize that even with being afforded a safe decent home a veteran requires employment and a way to connect with the civilian workforce and not to exclude other veterans who may have more lofty dreams of pursuing some form of entrepreneurial opportunity. Given the fact that their neighborhoods are food deserts which lack access to healthy foods the Project Love Coalition began exploring ways to connect our initiatives which had some over-lapping potential this ultimately led us to establishing our Green S.E.N.S.E. initiative which seeks to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem that can improve the quality of life for veterans and their neighbors. We are currently seeking other individuals and organizations to aid and assist us in further developing our Green S.E.N.S.E. initiative which involves providing healthy food, healthy housing, healthy environment, and Agricultural entrepreneurship + workforce development opportunities.
What are three keys to your organization’s success?
- Love for veterans and their families
- Love for the disinvested communities we serve
- Love for all people
What does PLC do really well? Why? How did you get so good?!
One thing that Project Love Coalition does well is remaining committed to tasks until we get the job done. We do this out of honor in our service to the neighborhoods where we live, work, serve, play, and socialize despite the hard times these neighborhoods are enduring. We got good at this because of personal commitments and participation from our military veteran members who served honorably in the military and who are continuing their service in the specific neighborhoods which align with Project Love Coalition's mission.
On the flip side…What are the top 3 obstacles or barriers PLC has faced over the years? Where you able to overcome them? If so, how?
Project Love Coalition has been struggling over the years to deal with:
1. Building a working board with certain skill sets offered by those members as it was explained to us. We are thankful for the few new board members that have recently joined but we still need a few more new board members to put us in a much more comfortable position. We are still publicly asking for new members to join our organization.
2. Lack of basic funding and other necessary resource support. Among our meetings with the local officials, the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh Bill Peduto and his administration has been extremely helpful. However, we are still in need continue our search for individuals and organizations that can provide any necessary aid and assistance to further our efforts.
3. Unsuitable office and program space. Our current temporary short-term meeting space does not provide Project Love Coalition with suitable space and permissions to conduct certain programs and activities. Although we are managing, we can certainly do much better given our own long-term space where our veterans feel more comfortable.
Project Love Coalition needs more partners with comparable skills, resources, and over-lapping goals. We need: Funding Support for our initiatives, Training resources, a Grant Writer, a Landscape Designer, a Contractor to build our learning garden.
Any words of wisdom for fellow food systems leaders?
Pick your area of focus, stick with it, find others to join you cause internally, and join with others who are willing to work together externally in order to solve problems that overlap with others.
That’s some great advice, Kent, thank you for sharing your vision and your work with us! We appreciate your emphasis on spreading love—it’s what the world needs now 😊