Makers build community, pride with Oasis Project

Project transforms slum into haven of opportunity

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PITTSBURGH — The triplex of row houses in the city was notorious for its active crack scene before the Rev. John Wallace's church bought it in 2005 and renovated it.

Today, the triplex is, among other things, The Maker's Place, a hub of production for middle and high school students in the Oasis Project.

Oasis was created last year as an outgrowth of after-school programs that began three years before. An arm of the Bible Center Church, Oasis encourages community development with a focus on youth being the drivers of their own economic development.

Rev. Wallace, the Bible Center's pastor and a professor of social work at the University of Pittsburgh, said the value of a maker's economy has resonance in a disadvantaged neighborhood.

"We have boys and girls making and selling items that blur gender lines. When you suggest making lip balm, boys will say, 'ehhh?' until you talk to them about making it and selling it. Then they're like, 'Hmm, my Mom would buy that,' " he said. "That was a revelation for me."

"The maker movement hasn't reached youth in disadvantaged areas, but they can tap the African-American market better than anyone," said Jomari Peterson, the community economic development manager for Oasis.

"One goal we have is to expose them to different things so they can follow" whatever passion might grow, he said.

Debralyn Woodberry-Shaw, program manager of The Maker's Place, said she hopes to increase the number of participants this fall to 30. Fifteen children participated this summer.

The Maker's Place is an entrepreneurial project that uses math, science, engineering, technology and art. The Maker's Clubhouse is a component for elementary students that Oasis operates with Pittsburgh Faison arts academy at the school.

The curriculum for the older students includes financial management, business development, mobile app creation and website development, including four electives: craftsmanship, art, fashion design and music technology. In each area, professionals mentor the students to produce and market salable items.

When students return to the Maker's Place this fall, they will work on a marketing plan to sell online the items that did not sell at this summer's Maker's Faire.

The makers' economy is one of a dozen projects at Oasis that range from basketball camp to summer dinners. Dinner's Ready! is a meal and mentoring group that brings children to the table with adults, sometimes their parents, to talk, listen and learn mealtime etiquette.

Oasis staff meets regularly with staff from other Homewood nonprofits to coordinate, reduce duplication and fill gaps in all their services.

"We all know the importance of community and conversation," he said. "Collaboration is critical to this work."