The Homewood-Brushton YMCA in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, has created a unique, safe place for young people to explore their interests in music, videography, dance, visual art and fashion through their Lighthouse Project.
The Lighthouse Project was originally launched in the fall of 2007 at the behest of the Pittsburgh Public Schools and was initially conceived to provide a safe space for teens to learn and create during after-school hours.
“The program was housed in Westinghouse Academy from 2008 through 2015, making use of underutilized classrooms for after-school, project-based activities like studio recording, graphic design, videography and hip-hop dance,” said James Brown, the youth development director at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA. “In 2016, the Lighthouse relocated to the Homewood-Brushton YMCA — less than a mile from its former home — into a newly renovated and dedicated teen space generously supported by the Heinz Endowments.”
The new space features a community recording studio, media lab, collaboration room, learning lab and a community cafe with a stage and commercial kitchen. The program is now offered year-round, serving over 150 teens each year from 11 different schools throughout Pittsburgh.
The Lighthouse mission is to develop young people who are creative, connected and prepared for life after high school. Lighthouse teens hone deep technical skills on professional audio-video equipment and have ongoing opportunities for self-expression. Brown said they empower youth to find and share their voice using media and art. “Lighthouse provides a number of pathways of opportunity,” he said. “We have apprenticeship programs, partnerships with local colleges, paid summer work opportunities and a summer entrepreneurship program.”
Serving as a creative outlet, Lighthouse looks to also be a safe and inclusive space for teens and young adults.
“We center the voices and experiences of black youth and LGBTQIA youth to ensure our most marginalized young people have a place to create, connect and dream,” said Brown
A typical day at the Lighthouse begins with teens arriving between 3 and 4 p.m. During this time, teens are able to do homework or spend time decompressing. At 4 p.m., teens split off into their two clubs: Audio Arts Club, where teens spend time in the recording studio learning to use equipment and write and record lyrics; or Visual Arts Club, where students learn graphic design, photography and videography. Both clubs break at 5:30 p.m. for dinner and all students head to the café for homemade meals, and sit with peers and staff to eat and enjoy conversation.
At 6 p.m., most teens return to a club while some attend a special 10-week course in a specific discipline. Typical courses offered in the fall and spring semesters include deejaying, beatmaking, podcasting and photoshop.
The Lighthouse allows teens to develop skills, build community and create a real-world network of mentors and professionals positioning them for success in young adulthood. However, the Lighthouse doesn’t just benefit the teens.
“Beyond serving youth, the Lighthouse community studio operates as a commercial studio, hosting clients from the community at affordable rates,” said Brown. “Clients include jazz musicians, podcasters, R&B singers, jam bands and other music programs. Our apprentices assist on many of these sessions.”
The Lighthouse Project is a bright spot in many Pittsburgh teens’ lives. From allowing them to creatively express themselves, connecting them with a network of mentors and providing them unique ways to serve their community like performing at community events, it’s no wonder teens flock to the program.