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Organization Aims to Help At-Risk Youth, Young Adults and Families

By Chasity Capasso

The United Futures’ Foundation (T.U.F.F.), a non-profit, community-based growth and outreach center that provides free services to low-income and at-risk youth, young adults and families, recently celebrated its grand-opening on June 4th at its new location in Donora.

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Gianna Combs (at left) won the bronze medal for Combat Weapons. She is ranked third in the world. Gabriel Yost (at right) won World Champion in the Traditional Weapons category.
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The STEM room sponsored by EQT and Lowes. All renovation work was done by Phoenix Home Improvement, mural by Jenna Worry.
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The summer program’s first year - held in Chantal Bey’s backyard.
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The new T.U.F.F. building – located at 410 McKean Avenue in Donora.
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T.U.F.F kids working in the garden, participating in the first week of the summer program 2022.

Founded by Chantal R. Bey in May 2016, the center helps to lessen the impact of poverty by providing the necessary tools, resources, support, and mentorship through its diverse programs and services, such as work force opportunities, training and certifications. 

T.U.F.F also provides numerous activities and programs for youth, teens and young adults. Since the program was founded, it has provided outreach services to more than 1,000 individuals of all ages, from young children to senior citizens. 

“I grew up in Pittsburgh, and there we had community centers, free lunch summers, pools, parks, all those great summer memories as a kid,” Bey said. “We wanted to bring some of those opportunities to help engage our youth’s mind, body, and soul.”

Six months before she founded the non-profit, Bey said she didn’t realize the severe need for an outreach program that services the entire Mon Valley. 

“Donora is my family’s home, but I didn't realize how bad the poverty was here until six months before we began our mission,” Bey explained. “While I was having a parent-teacher conference with my oldest daughter's teachers, they were telling me how bad some of the kids have it there. Teachers would have food stored in their desks because some kids were so hungry, kids had holes in their shoes and clothes. Once I heard that, my mind was blown and my heart was saddened. We always hear about poverty in third world countries, but rarely do you hear of it in your own backyard.”

Bey felt compelled to do something to help her community, so with the help of family and friends, she decided to found T.U.F.F, but lack of funding made her calling difficult. 

“In the beginning the majority of our funding came from our own household, however that has changed,” Bey said. “Now our funding mainly comes from awarded grants, donors, sponsors and fundraising. We are a very small non-profit, meaning all we have in our account is a little over $2,000, which isn't nearly enough, but we make it work. It kind of reminds me of the story of when Jesus fed 5,000 people with a few fish and a few loaves of bread.” 

T.U.F.F has received grants from EQT, BNY Mellon, Washington Community that Cares, the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, and Southwest Training.

The center has also partnered with several local non-profits, including Southwest Training, BluePrints, the Hope Center, the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, the NAACP, Visions to Learn, Highmark Wholecare (previously Gateway), and Monessen Communities That Care. 

Some programs offered through the center include an after-school enrichment program, T.U.F.F. Teens, STEM-Robotics-3D Printing, Kidz Got Talent, An Angel’s Christmas, Christmas of Hope, Seeds of Life (Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Awareness), L.I.T. (Ladies in Training), Keith’s Story (LGBTQ Support For The Youth), Samantha's Speaks Words of Life (an Anti-Suicide/Anti-Bullying Prevention & Awareness program in memory of one of Bey’s close friend’s daughter, and “Feed Their Body, Mind, & Soul” a popular program in its 7th year this summer. 

“The first day of our first ever summer program was held in my backyard,” Bey said. “We have come such a long way since then!”

T.U.F.F’s  summer program, “Feed Their Body, Mind, & Soul" provides youth participants with a nutritious lunch and snack, as well as hands-on, educational life lessons and activities. This summer, over 50 local youth are participating in the program, which runs through August. 

T.U.F.F. also offers education in everything from workforce to STEM, healthy living, healthy minds, overcoming obstacles, breaking down barriers, drug and alcohol prevention and awareness, mental health awareness and more. 

The center also has a newly renovated STEM room that has microscopes, telescopes and robots, sponsored by EQT and Lowe's.

“Anyone can take advantage of our services; it's a ‘come as you are’ type of mentality,” she explained. “Our summer program is ages 0-18, our after school program is K-12, our Angels' Christmas is 0-18, and our teen groups are usually 12-19. What we do for senior citizens is we will have our Angels' Christmas participants wrap & personalize blankets, which are delivered to local nursing homes. Since the pandemic began, we have been able to bless over 250 local nursing home residents. This year we would like to be able to distribute to a local high rise building for seniors.”

T.U.F.F.’s Angel’s Christmas began in 2016 and has helped over 300 local families in need who either cannot receive assistance from Toys for Tots or the Salvation Army, have fallen on hard times or their child is past the age limit of other available holiday services. 

“All Children who participate MUST bring in a new or gently uses blanket which they will then wrap, personalize and give to either veterans or local nursing home residents,” Bey said. “So not only is our Angels' Christmas giving the gift of Christmas to our youth, it’s also bringing the joys of Christmas to another. We host our Christmas trees in Starbucks in Belle Vernon and Jake's Pizza in Rostraver yearly. Last year we had 145 angels on our trees.”

“It's truly hard to put everything we do and offer in a nutshell,” said Bey. “We work diligently to lessen the epidemics and life challenges that people face everyday. We are  constantly evolving and developing to meet the ever-changing needs of those within our communities. I believe T.U.F.F. has helped to empower many lives and engage those on a deeper level.”

Twice a year, TUFF hosts local clean-up days; “Spring Into Action usually in April and “Time To Take Out The Trash” in the fall. 

“Over 1,000 bags have been removed from our streets in the years that we have been doing this,” Bey said. “We start at the Donora War Memorial and sweep through town. We usually have anywhere between 15-20 youth participants, which is amazing because the youth is our future and our future looks a lot better with individuals like this in it.”

Montell J. Carlock, a volunteer with T.U.F.F since 2015, said the children he works with participate in a wide range of events and activities such as STEM week, art projects for the science center, as well as participating in the community garden planting seeds, learning to have a green thumb. 

“The children participate in so many more activities whether in the community or outside of the community where they get to be themselves and show off their gifts, creativity, innovation, and their skills at the program,” he said. “Dance, art, music, science, similar school activities the children are exposed to are so many amazing and invaluable keys to life.”

Carlock said he found out about T.U.F.F through the Career Link in Donora. 

“I was 14 going on 15 looking for a summer job and I was able to get connected to Chantal Bey who hired me along,” he explained. “Since then I grew a partnership and to be honest, a family here at the T.U.F.F program. I’ve been volunteering or working there every summer.”

Carlock believes that T.U.F.F is beneficial because the community is “in need for a pillar to be able to be a safe haven for children to come and be themselves, learn about different things, and be at a place of outreach.” 

“The whole mission of the program is to make a difference,” he added. “The community needs the future generations taken care of. I am part of the program because we need it. I’m 21 years old and it’s up to me and those children to build and rise up. Our community has struggled and this program is the fire that uplifts us. I’m a witness and I’m a continue to fight for the program and fight for those children because they need me. These children are talented and gifted; at T.U.F.F they showcase that daily. Those kids are protected, valued, loved, and appreciated for them being uniquely themselves. At T.U.F.F they have access to so many resources through the summer that not only benefits them now but in the future as well.”

Heather Lessman, from Donora, has four children that have been participating in T.U.F.F’s programs for the past three years. 

“My kids do several activities at the center, like learning creative ways to keep the earth clean and also using Play-Doh to make all the layers of the Earth,” she said. “They also they just learned about Juneteenth, about slavery and how we are all the same no matter our skin color and about being kind to one another.”

Lessman said she believes the center gives kids the opportunity to learn from one another while doing educational activities with their peers and also gives them a place to go during the summer months when school is out.  

“T.U.F.F gives them hope because they get to go to lunch, participate in activities and programs and they also get to learn things that can help them in the upcoming school year,” Lessman said. “Chantal is a wonderful teacher and mentor who teaches these kids how to thrive through hard times. When they have no one, she's there for them. My kids personally wake up everyday and can't wait to get there. They love being there hanging out with their friends and making memories. Without the center it would be all on my shoulders all the time.“

“T.U.F.F. is important to me because I want to see every single one of our members succeed,” Bey added. “I want to teach my children the value and importance of giving back and that they were made for greatness, both my own children and the kids we outreach. It’s such a joy to witness the growth and development of so many lives throughout the years. Many of our participants have been active members since the beginning, and new members are being enrolled daily.”

The center’s new location is 410 McKean Avenue in Donora. If you would like to learn more about T.U.F.F., please contact Chantal Bey directly at 412-606-7639. 

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