180 Degrees Empowerment Center offers opportunities for area youth

13502588_659102580913805_4113438828867297511_oDepressed areas create despair for residents and youth alike, and a sense that opportunity exists elsewhere. But Terry Vassar of Brownsville, Pennsylvania, decided that he could make it where he lives, and raise others up in the process, through his 180° Empowerment Center, a 501.3c organization headquartered in Brownsville.

Vassar, proud father of five children and a Windows R Us franchise owner, explains the inspiration for the Center’s name: “180 is about making a complete turn-around. Anytime anyone came to Jesus, they would have their life turned around 180 degrees.”

From high school graduation until about age 28, Vassar said that while he had a good family, “…some of us find love in different places, and I found mine in drugs and street life. But at 28, I realized I had no life, and went back to school,” adding that once he rededicated his life to Christ, he didn’t need to go to rehab to quit his habits.

After completing a degree in Ministerial Studies from Shiloh Bible Institute, Vassar worked as a telemarketer where he “ . . . learned how to be a communicator and have people skills,” which benefitted him though managerial and mortgage broker jobs, and would later help bring the Center to the Brownsville community.

14054553_683504928473570_3336914508211999575_oVassar’s experiences on the street, along with personal development through hard work, seeded the idea for 180° Empowerment Center in 2007. However, it took time to build connections with the school district, and create a location, at 165 Market Street in Brownsville. Once in place, he moved ahead with his vision, working with Brownsville Area School District Superintendent Dr. Philip Savini, Jr., Ph. D, to bring the Center’s outreach programs to the district, starting in December of this year.

The Center provides English, math, and Spanish tutoring for 7-12 grades, along with PSSA, SAT, and ACT preparation. In addition, grief counseling, career awareness, student aid workshops, and suicide awareness and prevention programs are available to the area students, or anyone in need.

On request, life development courses and credit counseling are also available.

California University interns from the Department of TRIO and the Hispanic Student Association have stepped in to volunteer their tutoring skills. Lisa Driscoll from the Department of TRIO and Academic Services facilitates the relationship between California University and the Center.

“She’s awesome and it’s been a great partnership. She was instrumental in getting everything in line to start in December,” Vassar said of Driscoll.

Furthering technical literacy skills for Brownsville school district students is Fab Lab, which as Vassar calls “A new, 21st century way of doing design.”

Fab Lab, instructed by Brandon Prentice from Intermediate Unit 1, features classes in Laser Cutting, 3D Printing for Beginners, and a Vinyl Sticker Tutorial. While working through these classes, students learn about design software and 3D modeling to produce projects for the individual class instructions. New Fab Lab classes will form in early 2017.

Vassar’s message for the area is a positive one: “I believe that people in the Mon Valley area, because of the depression, believe they can’t do it here. But by the grace of God, I am. I want kids to be able to duplicate what I’ve done. I want kids to find out what they love to do, and work on developing their strengths.”

Those wishing to donate and/or participate: 180degreesempowerment.com/about, and click on “Lend a Helping Hand.”

Photos: (top) Students show off self portraits made during Fab Lab (bottom) Students participated in a basketball clinic offered by the Center at Brownsville Area High School this past August. Future clinics are planned.

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges

California Holly Days set for Dec. 4

xmas261California Borough families will have the opportunity to partake in a free holiday celebration on Sunday, December 4, 2016 at California University of Pennsylvania’s Natali Student Center from 4-5:30 p.m.

Activities Will Include:

A large inflatable snowman chair for fun photo opportunities

Photobooth Fun – Snap some holiday-themed selfies in the home-made photo booth!

Holiday Crafts

Cal U’s Theater Department will perform a portion of their upcoming musical, “The Happy Elf,” at 4:15 p.m.

Holiday Cookie Decorating

Balloon animals and face painting will be available

A family-friendly holiday movie will continuously be shown in the Vulcan Theater

A card-decorating station will be set-up to decorate cards to send to soldiers and hospitals

Santa will arrive at 4:30 p.m.

Don’t forget your list, and remember to smile for your printed photo with Santa for your decorated frame

Blaze and the DQ ice cream cone will be in attendance

PARKING WILL BE FREE. The best place to park will be behind the Student Union (coming down Hickory Street)

The Bookstore will be running a 20% discount. Plan to have dinner after the event in the Gold Rush, too.

Please invite your friends & spread the word! We hope to see you there!

Event Sponsored by California Borough Recreation Authority and California University of Pennsylvania

Youth reach out to Brownsville homeowners in need

The Brownsville, Pennsylvania area is living in hard times because of diminished industry, diminishing population, and diminished incomes. What follows is an increasing number of decaying homes, with residents wishing for help and hope.

And there is hope. Through the auspices of Reach Mission Trips of Colorado, working in conjunction with Reach Workcamps of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Uniontown, approximately 350-400 work campers will take up residence at Brownsville Area High School to serve 70 of Brownsville’s homeowners whose homes are in need of vital improvements.

Reach Mission Trips sponsors 6-8 work camps each year, involving church youth group students from 6th grade through high school and adults.

Judith Taylor, coordinator of Reach Workcamps of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, says of the program “It’s almost a rite of passage at church for kids to go to Reach. It’s a way to learn to serve,” which fulfills Reach’s goal of developing youth into “transformed servants of Jesus,” according to their web site.

Homeowners in need are pleased to discover there is no cost to them for the student teams who work to make their home “warmer, safer, and dryer” – the main goals of the home improvements according to Taylor.

“What’s the catch?” homeowners wonder, but there is no catch, as Taylor explains “funds come from youth group fundraisers. Each student usually pays $400 – $425 (to participate). This money funds the needed materials. These kids do fundraisers to raise money to pay for the privilege of sleeping on a classroom floor all week, eating cafeteria food. It’s character building.” Workdays of six hours for junior high, and seven hours for seniors, adds to the week long character building process.

Taylor, an 18 year volunteer, has taken generations of kids to Reach, which helps them learn skills in working with tools, roofing, and painting, while learning work ethics such as getting up for work at 6:30 a.m. every day during the week.

Taylor’s own family is a multi-general participant in Reach, with her daughter, Maggie Taylor, and granddaughter, Bailey Burkett helping out during camps. It’s not unusual for this program to bring in new generations, as Taylor said “A lot of students have come back as adults to continue work. Reach needs staff and now this is their college summer job.”

To qualify for help through Reach, the home must be owned by the resident, have financial need, and be within half hour travel distance from Brownsville Area High School.

In December, a Reach representative will visit homeowners who have completed applications.

All of the work done is overseen by a “troubleshooter” who had been a contractor in the past. All adults are screened including a background check and a letter from their own church’s pastor, Taylor said.

Homeowners benefit in a tangible way from the efforts of Reach work campers, not only in their everyday lives, but in the creation of a positive perception of modern youth. Taylor relates a project in southern West Virginia, where a homeowner “had stairs and handicap ramp so rotted she couldn’t safely leave the house. After being able to go down the steps and view her new porch on the house, she said ‘My porch looks like it belongs on the front of Southern Living Magazine!’”

Homeowners are pleased with the hard work and good attitudes of the campers, and have said “I didn’t think there were any good kids left in the world,” Taylor recounts, adding “the kids lead prayers at lunch time. It changes peoples’ perceptions of youth. I think that’s worthwhile because of too much negativity for young people.”

Taylor invites local community members and churches to participate with donations of bottled water, ice for lunch coolers, donations in kind, or financial donations. Local church youth who wish to participate will not commute, but will stay with other work campers at the high school, as Taylor said, because it provides church youth with a complete work camper experience.

Taylor is available to visit churches and youth groups to explain the camp, and also said “It’s not too early to be looking for homes which need help.”

For questions, information, work the group can do, or offers to help via food, donations, and more, contact Judith Taylor at mumimp@hotmail.com, or call 724-812-1597.

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges

December 2016 events in Brownsville

On Sun., Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. the Uniontown Chorale will present a Christmas program at St. Cecilia’s Church (1571 Grindstone Road, Grindstone).

The Allison Nazarene Church (416 Vernon St., Allison) will host Grace on the Hill on Sun., Dec. 4. The evening of prayer time and Bible Study also includes a free light meal & begins at 5:13 p.m. and lasts until 8 p.m. The public is invited.

Monday, Dec. 5 – Bible Released Time for middle school students at South Brownsville United Methodist Church (412 Second St., Brownsville) at 9 a.m. Volunteers  needed, 724-785-3080.

Thurs., Dec. 8 – Produce to People at the Fayette County Fairgrounds (Fiddler’s Building). Volunteers  needed starting at 8:30 a.m. Food distribution begins at 10 a.m.

On Sun., Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. the Bentworth Ministerial Community Choir will present a Christmas program at St. Peter’s (300 Shaffner Ave., Brownsville).

Monday, Dec. 12 – Bible Released Time for middle school students at South Brownsville United Methodist Church (412 Second St., Brownsville) at 9:00 a.m. Volunteers, call 724-785-3080.

The BAMA meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13, will be at 9:15 a.m. at the Calvin United Presbyterian Church (307 Spring St., Brownsville).

Thursday, Dec. 15 – Bible Released Time for elementary students begins at 9:15 a.m. at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church (307 High St., Brownsville). Volunteers needed, 724-785-3080.

Mon., Dec. 19 – Bible Released Time for middle school students at South Brownsville United Methodist Church (412 Second St., Brownsville) at 9 a.m. Volunteers needed, 724-785-3080.

Rock “N’ Remember Live! is back by popular demand

Rock “N’ Remember Live! is back by popular demand!  Spotlight Productions is bringing iconic 60’s groups to the Benedum Center (237 7th St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222) on March 4 at 7:30 p.m. for one night only.

Spotlight Productions has assembled a power packet 60’s show that features legendary groups, Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone, Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, Dennis Tufano, original voice of the Buckinghams, and Terry Sylvester of The Hollies.

“This year’s Rock ‘N’ Remember Live! show consists of all original lead singers of the 60’s, who topped the charts with over 30 top 20 hits,” shared Charlie Pappas of Spotlight Productions. “It has been years since all of these headliners have played in Pittsburgh and audiences are essentially getting four great shows in one!”

peter-noone-highest-resHerman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone: Peter (Herman) Noone, born in Manchester, England has been delighting audiences all of his life. At the age of 15, Peter achieved international fame as lead singer of the legendary 60’s pop group, Herman’s Hermits. His classic hits include: I’m Into Something Good, Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, I’m Henry the VIII I Am, Silhouettes, Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat, Just A Little Bit Better, Kind of a Hush, A Must to Avoid, Listen People, The End of the World and Dandy. Accompanied by his band, Herman’s Hermits’ Peter Noone consistently plays to sold-out venue’s the world over.

gary-puckett-splash_0x0_acf_croppedGary Puckett and the Union Gap: Gary Puckett and the Union Gap was one of the most successful musical groups of the 60’s. Gary’s distinct signature voice garnered six consecutive gold records and top ten billboard hits with titles, Young Girl, Woman Woman, Lady Will Power, This Girl’s A Woman Now, Keep the Customer Satisfied and Don’t Give Into Him. Gary and the Union Gap have performed on more than thirty television shows and prime time specials as well as a command performance for the President and Prince Charles at the White House. Gary was raised in Yakima, Washington near the City of Union Gap and now resides in Clearwater FL.

dennis-tufano-promo-picDennis Tufano, Voice of The Buckinghams: Dennis Tufano, a native of Chicago is the original voice of the 60’s pop group, The Buckinghams. With the voice of Dennis, The Buckinghams went on to score five major hits which include Kind of a Drag, Don’t You Care, Hey Baby They’re Playing Our Song, Mercy Mercy Mercy and Susan. Dennis who now lives in Los Angeles continues to tour and astound audiences around the country with that unmistakable voice of his.

terry-sylvesterTerry Sylvester of The Hollies: Terry Sylvester started his musical career at the famous “Cavern Club” in Liverpool, England in the early 60’s with his first group “The Escorts” and appeared at the Cavern Club with the Beatles on many occasions. In 1965, Terry joined the Swinging Blue Jeans. Terry got his big break in December 1968 when he was asked to replace Graham Nash of the Hollies. The Hollies scored a string of top 20 hits including  Bus Stop, Stop Stop Stop, On a Carousel, Carrie Anne, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, Long Cool Woman and The Air I Breath. In 2010 Terry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is only the 5th Liverpool born to enter the hall. The other four are the Beatles. Terry is still touring, mainly in North America.

Tickets (starting at $39.00) go on sale today, Wednesday, November 2, and may be purchased at the Theatre Square Box Office (655 Penn Avenue, Downtown) by calling 412-456-6666 or online at TrustArts.org.

Westmoreland College named top culinary school

2094_chefs_hat_character_running_with_tray_of_wine_and_plate_with_chickenWestmoreland County Community College is ranked the top culinary school in Pennsylvania by Best Choice Schools.

Criteria for the rankings included availability of hands-on experience, internship/externship opportunities, student operated restaurants, modern facilities, industry reputation and national accreditation by the American Culinary Federation.

Nationally, Westmoreland is ranked 40th among the top U.S. culinary schools. Westmoreland offerings acknowledged in the rankings include the associate in applied science degree programs in Baking and Pastry, Culinary Arts and Restaurant/Culinary Management.

“We’re thrilled to be recognized as the best culinary arts school in the state and among the top institutions in the country,” said Dr. Cindy Komarinski, dean of the School of Health Professions and the School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality.

“Our program graduates are employed throughout the United States at places such as Canyon Ranch in Las Vegas, The  Sheraton Grand, Phoenix and Universal Studios in Florida,” Komarinski said.

Within the region, Westmoreland culinary arts and hospitality graduates hold positions as executive chefs, operations managers and product development directors at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa, The Duquesne Club, Eat n’

Park Hospitality Group and Seven Springs Mountain Resort among other businesses.

Westmoreland is accepting applications for admission into the culinary arts and hospitality programs.

FMI: wccc.edu/culinary.

Waynesburg U named to Community Service Honor Roll

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) recently announced that Waynesburg University was named to the 2015 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. This is the University’s eighth consecutive year receiving the honor. Waynesburg University was one of 115 schools on the General Community Service Honor Roll with distinction and only one of 12 in the state of Pennsylvania identified with distinction.

“We are honored to receive this award, which is a tribute to the hard work and commitment of our students, faculty and staff,” said Waynesburg University President Douglas G. Lee. “Their dedication to service continues to have a profound impact.”

The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll is the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to community, service-learning and civic engagement. CNCS is a federal agency that improves lives, strengthens communities and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering.

The Honor Roll recognizes institutions of higher education that support exemplary community service programs and raise the visibility of effective practices in campus community partnerships. Honorees for the award were chosen based on a series of selection factors including scope and innovativeness of service projects, percentage of student participation in service activities, incentives for service and the extent to which academic service-learning courses are offered.

Waynesburg University students, faculty and staff contribute more than 50,000 service hours annually. Through its more than 50 local and regional agencies and a continuously expanding network of international agencies, Waynesburg University encourages students to become servant-leaders through a number of partnerships. The University offers approximately 16 service mission trips each academic year. The trips are held during the fall, winter, spring and summer breaks. The University also participates in a number of weekend-long service projects in the local community and surrounding region. In addition to volunteer hours, the University offers a service leadership minor constructed around service-learning courses. During the semester-long courses, students perform a set amount of hours of community service with a non-profit organization.

The University is one of only 21 Bonner Scholar Schools in the country. With support from the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, Waynesburg is committed to the program which was created to offer scholarship assistance to students performing significant amounts of community service throughout their time at Waynesburg. Approximately 60 Waynesburg University students are involved with the program each year.

“Gone with the Wind” celebrates 75th birthday

Dashing Rhett Butler at the film's premiere

Dashing Rhett Butler at the film’s premiere

“Frankly my dear…” If you are any kind of film buff, you know those words. They are engraved permanently in your memory. Perhaps the greatest line from arguably the greatest film of all time, Gone with the Wind. If you’ve never seen it, and that is a sin, the film was first released on December 15, 1939. It is an American epic historical romance film adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind. It was produced by David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures and directed by Victor Fleming.

The film is a complex love story set in the American South against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. The film is the story of Scarlett O’Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, from her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes, who is married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, to her marriage to black sheep Rhett Butler. The leading roles are portrayed by Vivien Leigh (Scarlett), Clark Gable (Rhett), Leslie Howard (Ashley), and Olivia de Havilland (Melanie). Scarlett’s love for her plantation, Tara, plays a very strong subliminal role as the foundation of her past, present and future.

The film premiered at the Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia on December 15, 1939. A double bill of Hawaiian Nights and Beau Geste was playing, and after the first feature it was announced that the theater would be screening a preview; the audience was informed they could leave but would not be readmitted once the film had begun, nor would phone calls be allowed once the theater had been sealed. When the title appeared on the screen the audience cheered, and after it had finished it received a standing ovation.

It was the climax of three days of festivities hosted by Mayor William B. Hartsfield, which included a parade of limousines featuring stars from the film, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags, and a costume ball. Eurith D. Rivers, the governor of Georgia, declared December 15 a state holiday. An estimated three hundred thousand residents and visitors to Atlanta lined the streets for up to seven miles to watch a procession of limousines chauffeuring the stars from the airport. Only Leslie Howard and Victor Fleming chose not to attend: Howard had returned to England due to the outbreak of World War II, and Fleming had fallen out with Selznick and declined to attend any of the premieres. Hattie McDaniel was also absent, as she and the other black cast members were prevented from attending the premiere due to Georgia’s Jim Crow laws, which would have kept them from sitting with their white colleagues. Upon learning that McDaniel had been barred from the premiere, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event, but McDaniel convinced him to attend.

Premieres in New York and Los Angeles followed, the latter attended by some of the actresses that had been considered for the part of Scarlett, among them Paulette Goddard, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford.

From December 1939 to July 1940, the film played only advance-ticket road show engagements at a limited number of theaters at prices upwards of $1, more than double the price of a regular first-run feature, with MGM collecting an unprecedented 70 percent of the box office receipts (as opposed to the typical 30-35 percent of the period). After reaching saturation as a roadshow, MGM revised its terms to a 50 percent cut and halved the prices, before it finally entered general release in 1941 at “popular” prices. Along with its distribution and advertising costs, total expenditure on the film was as high as $7 million.

Story by Fred Terling for Pennsylvania Bridges

Were the ghosts that haunted Scrooge real or just his imagination?

scrooges_third_visitor-john_leech1843The following is a special installment in our ongoing series, Exploring the Paranormal with Reanna Roberts.

There are not a lot of Christmas or holiday themed paranormal events to write about for this issue, and this time of year also isn’t a particularly noticeably active time of year for the paranormal. For this issue, I decided to address, and attempt to debunk (or at least give opinions on what causes) the ghosts that Ebenezer Scrooge sees in Charles

Dickens’ fictional novel A Christmas Carol.

Most people are familiar with the story of A Christmas Carol, whether it be from the book itself, the stage presentation, or one of the many film adaptations. Just in case you are not familiar, though, let’s review the main characters in the film

Ebenezer Scrooge – Elderly money-lender (think overpriced loan agent, ‘pay day loan’ style lender.)  He and a good friend of his, Jacob Marley, owned the business together until Marley’s death. This is also where the term scrooge came from, generally directed as a person that’s not very perky or chipper around the holidays.

Jacob Marley – Scrooge’s business partner who passed away seven years before this takes place. Also the first ghost to visit Scrooge.

Bob Cratchit – Scrooge’s clerk, very mild and meek, very family oriented. Low income, large family, which includes a disabled son Tiny Tim, the pride and joy of the Cratchit family.

The Ghost of Christmas Past – The first apparition after Marley’s visit, shows Scrooge’s childhood, we meet his sister, and see his family holidays.

The Ghost of Christmas Present – The second apparition after Marley’s visit, shows Scrooge Fred’s house, whose invitation he turned down, where they are talking about how cranky he

always is.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – The third apparition after Marley’s visit, shows Scrooge his own grave a year later, and also what happens to Tiny

Tim and the Cratchit family in the following year.

There are also a few other characters, such as Fred and Fan, or Fannie, Scrooge’s relatives. Fan is his deceased sister, Fred is her son, Scrooge’s nephew. There is also Fezziwig, Scrooge’s former employer from his youth, who throws lavish holiday parties.

What could possibly cause these ghosts to visit such a wretched old man? Were there ghosts actually visiting him, or were they some sort of hallucinations? Possibly, they were dreams. There are quite a few options, but I want to briefly touch on a few.

First, loneliness can do strange things. Although Scrooge is known for his “bah humbug” attitude, the older he gets, the more he realizes he has no one. He had his nephew Fred, to an extent, but he never really associates with him, he never really visits, and he detests spending holidays with family. He may very well have been realizing he’s going to be alone for the rest of his life, and while wondering what he would do as he fell asleep, his subconscious conjured up these visitors to show him his ‘options.’ Suffer for eternity, like Marley, remind him of the parties Fezziwig threw and make him feel all warm and fuzzy inside recalling that, show him what fun Fred and his guests are having while they mock him since he is not there, once again, and then finally shows him the ‘Christmas Yet to Come’ where he sees his own demise and also sees how empty the Cratchit house is after losing Tiny Tim. After the ghosts visit him and he wakes up, he’s filled with merriment, buys presents, feasts, and visits family. He’s a changed man. Was this because he subconsciously saw how lonely he was, though? Were there actually ghosts visiting him?

Perhaps, since he is an elderly man, he has something similar to dementia setting in. I am not a medical doctor, nor am I a psychologist, but I do know that those suffering from dementia imagine some people are others from their past. Maybe this spilled over into his dreams. Maybe he just missed his old friend Marley and his sister, and maybe he subconsciously felt bad about Tiny Tim.

Or, maybe they were really ghosts. It is a work of fiction, and it could be ghosts actually visiting, but in all of the years I have investigated the paranormal, I’ve never heard of time traveling ghosts. That’s a new theory to me. Just because I know nothing about it, though, doesn’t actually mean it’s not accurate. Really, I feel like whatever was able to get through to Scrooge in this story is the best thing to happen for those that surround him and are stuck with him as a boss or family member.

I guess I didn’t really succeed at debunking, but I hope I made your brain work a little in regards to time traveling ghosts and what could have caused the ghosts in A Christmas Carol. If not, well, “Bah, humbug.”

Have a question about the paranormal? Email Reanna Roberts at PABridges.Reanna@comcast.net

23rd annual Highmark First Night announces headliner Nigel Hall Band

fn17_fn_logo_final-black-colorThe Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced today that the Nigel Hall Band will perform as the headline act for the largest family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration in the region-the  23rd annual Highmark First Night Pittsburgh. In addition, the theme for this year’s celebration is PITTSBURGH: THE NEXT 200 YEARS, chosen to reflect the culmination of the City’s year-long Bicentennial celebration and serving as an impetus for citizens to think about what is to come in the City’s future.

For the sixth consecutive year, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield will serve as the presenting sponsor for the event, produced by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

A full announcement regarding the programming schedule for Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2017 will take place on Tuesday, December 6 at 10 a.m. at the Trust Arts Education Center (805-807 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh) in the Peirce Studio. KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today Live co-hosts Kristine Sorensen and Jon Burnett will host the festive press preview.

“With over 40,000 anticipated for the Trust’s largest open house of the year, we are thrilled to present a band that promises to warm everyone’s soul on First Night,” shared Sarah Aziz, the newly appointed director of Highmark First Night. “We are also honored to serve as the culminating event for Pittsburgh’s Bicentennial and hope to curate an evening of events that reflect the history, innovation and diversity of our City, and that leaves every attendee hopeful about the 200 years ahead of us.”

Ninety percent (90%) of all Highmark First Night Pittsburgh events are held indoors. At the end of the evening, visitors enjoy the Future of Pittsburgh Grand Finale: the countdown to midnight, raising of the 1,000 lbs. Future of Pittsburgh ball 150 feet in the air above Penn Avenue Place, and a spectacular Zambelli fireworks finale. The Nigel Hall Band will perform on the Highmark Stage during this rousing Grand Finale.

Nigel Hall grew up in Washington, D.C., in a highly musical family. His fingers first touched the keys before he hit kindergarten age, and his ears were wide open. “I grew up with records,” he said. “That’s why I’m obsessed. My father had a vast collection. I’d be in third grade with my Walkman and everyone’s listening to Ace of Bass, and I’m listening to ‘Return to Forever,’” Chick Corea’s fusion project with Stanley Clarke. The vintage sounds of LADIES & GENTLEMEN… NIGEL HALL, infused with his electric freshness, together make both an audible autobiography and Nigel Hall’s musical mission statement.

“I like to sing songs that reflect my being and who I am as a person,” he said. “Because that really touches me. When you hear a song and it makes you cry, or it makes you happy or it evokes any kind of feeling, that is music. That is what music is supposed to do. And music is the last pure thing we have left on this earth. It’s the only pure thing.”

This soul provider’s debut album is out and soaring along with kudos from critics across the country as well as incredible live shows to celebrate the release. With the digital version and vinyl LP currently available, Feel Music Group released it on CD Friday, February 19, 2016. LADIES & GENTLEMEN… NIGEL HALL captures the spirit of the songs that made Hall a musician. It was produced by Eric Krasno, guitarist and producer of a dizzying array of artists including Norah Jones, Justin Timberlake, Talib Kweli, Aaron Neville and Matisyahu.

Admission Buttons are $10 in advance or at the door (children 5 and under FREE) and are worn by attendees on New Year’s Eve, giving access to all indoor and outdoor attractions at Highmark First Night Pittsburgh. Admission Buttons are on sale at TrustArts.org/FirstNightPGH, the Box Office at Theater Square (655 Penn Avenue), or at 412-456-6666. Additionally, participating Giant Eagle store locations will have buttons available for sale starting in early December. Some indoor performances also require seating vouchers, which are free tickets. Events requiring vouchers are listed at TrustArts.org/FirstNightPGH.

Reserve your spot to celebrate in comfort and style during Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2017. This priority reservation opportunity is your chance to lock in low pricing before it goes up for the general public on December 6. Enjoy priority seating, access, parking, and more! For more information on becoming a part of this special sponsorship opportunity, visit this link or please call 412-471-3518.

Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2016 sponsors as of release date include: Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield as the presenting sponsor, Dollar Bank, First National Bank, Giant Eagle and PNC. FedEx Ground returns as a title sponsor for the annual parade which includes special themed puppets designed by Studio Capezzuti. Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2017 community supporters include The Buhl Foundation and The Fine Foundation and The Grable Foundation. Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2017 media partners currently include KDKA TV and Pittsburgh City Paper.

Highmark First Night Pittsburgh, a production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, is an arts-focused and family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration in downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. It is the largest single-day celebration in the region offering 100+ events at dozens of indoor and outdoor locations within the 14-block Cultural District. The celebration offers something for everyone.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announces the opening of BOUGAINVILLEA: A BOTANIC PERMUTATION at 709 Penn Gallery, 709 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The exhibition features 2D artwork by Don Dugal, an artist inspired by the showy-colored, warm-weather bit of flora which has traditionally been overlooked by artists because of its amorphous blooms and inability to ‘pose’ as a cut flower.

Dugal explains: “My interest in Bougainvillea stems from my intimate contact with it during my residence in Honolulu, where the plant is a common garden feature. For 20 years I lived with a huge mass of Bougainvillea growing outside my kitchen windows, where in bloom and full sun, it would flood half of the house with a surprisingly intense, reflective, pink glow. Having taught Art courses that emphasized the importance of color in Nature, as well as those that explored the historical use of artist’s pigments, Bougainvillea presented itself as a natural subject. My art has always leaned to a synthesis of the perceptual with the psychological – accompanied by garnishes of Art and Music history.”

Don Dugal was born and educated in Detroit when automobile culture, devotion to beer and frantic urban expansion were at their zenith. He received a BFA in Painting from Wayne State University, studying under professors David Mitchell and Robert Wilbert, and then found his way to the state of Hawaii, where, having studied with professors Ben Norris and Ken Bushnell, he received, in 1969, an MFA in Drawing and Painting, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Successful exhibitions in Honolulu prompted him to stay on in Hawaii where he initiated a 41-year career of teaching Painting, Drawing and Design at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Significant solo exhibitions include those at the Contemporary Museum in 1980, 1994 and 1999 and the Honolulu Academy of Arts (now the Honolulu Museum) in 1983 and 2007. His work is in the collections of the Hawaii State Art Museum, the Honolulu Museum, the Honolulu City Arts Commission and the Springfield, Illinois Arts Commission. He was awarded an Individual Artist Grant from the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts in 1999, and several commissioned works by Dugal may be found at the Hawaii Convention Center and the Honolulu City Medical Examiner’s Office. He retired from the University of Hawaii in 2010 and in 2011, after careful research, chose Pittsburgh as a home.

709 Penn Gallery: A project of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust  and managed by the Trust’s Education and Community Engagement department, 709 Penn Gallery features exhibits by local and regional artists working in multiple disciplines and is located at 709 Penn Avenue near the intersection of Penn and Seventh Street. Gallery hours are Wed., Thurs. from 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., Fri., Sat. from 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Sun. from 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. FMI about all gallery exhibitions featured in the Cultural District, please visit www.trustarts.org.