October 16, 2018
Latham Street Commons and the Night Owl Bakers Program
Updated April 2019
Latham Street Commons (LSC) was testing the impact of rain water collection and distributed energy generation systems on food production in an urban environment. LSC is a place where we test new ways of living as a community, and provide an innovative approach to workforce development and employment so that individuals can become self-sufficient. Producing food, and establishing access to it, has been integral to the project from the beginning. We believe that if we place food, one of our most precious resources, at the center of our work, we can have an impact on the knowledge, civic-mindedness and function of a community health and well-being. LSCs physical location is a quarter acre site bounded by two rows of 100-year-old garages that lie one block off Penn Avenue, a busy urban street that is the demarcation for the Garfield and Friendship neighborhoods in the City of Pittsburgh.
Founded by two Carnegie Mellon professors, Kristin Hughes and Mary-Lou Arscott, Latham Street Commons has involved hundreds of community residents in the design and learning process. Over the past two years, we have invested time experimenting with potential ways of growing food. We received advice and guidance from Chatham University Falk School of Sustainability and Environment. Using very basic materials we grew an enormous amount of produce, which was shared with the community. We learned about the different conditions of exposure to sun, rain, and wind, depending on orientation. The site is, in fact, ideal for growing food in summer months, but expansion of the growing period is necessary if we want to have any significant impact on food insecurity and access.
Latham Streets Commons has evolved and developed The Night Owl Bakers Program. The Night Owl Bakers is an educational workforce development program that provides a holistic approach to self-identity and employment preparedness for young adults. The program innovatively combines 21st century skills through making and selling artisanal breads and baked goods. Our proposed project will provide evidence for the effectiveness of a holistic educational program for self-identity, mental health, and employment preparedness for young adults who are transitioning out of foster-care and those often left in the margins of new educational/workforce training opportunities.
The PIs and CO-PIs long-term vision is to create a model of operations which is both educational and transformative, and has the ability to be adopted in other communities, nationally and internationally. This past fall the Night Owl Bakers program was selected for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation E4A’s Technical Assistance Program. This unique program partnered our team with the Evaluation Institute for Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and Behavioral and Community Health Sciences. The goal of the matching program was to help support the design of a proven evaluation plan. Being a part of this collaboration has helped the team prioritize our goals, manage the scale and complexity of the project and establish clear, linear steps to measuring outcomes.
To capitalize on the work from this fall, the team will run two pilot studies—one starting in March 2019, the second in September 2019. We will operate out of a temporary space with a kitchen (TBD) and work with select participants from Action Housing’s MyPlace Program and Bloomfield Garfield College to Career Pathways program.
The research is investigating educational and technological approaches to foster the social and economic determinants of health of vulnerable youth. Research shows social ties and connections, as well as economic stability, contribute to well-being. Because wealth is so significantly linked with health, creating mechanisms to improve financial opportunities for marginalized youth is critical. The team plans to foster well-being by connecting young adults transitioning out of foster-care, and others left in the margins of economic development through Night Owl Bakers (NOB) career readiness and workforce training. Our aim is to create relationships that are both individually helpful and community strengthening. Our plan is to investigate the degree to which the NOB program (a) prepares participants for job readiness, which includes shifts in their skills, knowledge, attitudes, and social emotional functioning; (b) creates employment opportunities for NOB participants; and (c) deepens the sense of community experienced by local residents who will have the opportunity to observe and interact with our program.
The project leads anticipate a total of 20 young adults (aged 18-22) to participate in the first pilot starting midmarch. It is an 8-week program that runs three days a week in the early evenings. We will monitor participant-level changes in knowledge and skills specific to each phase of training. Specifically, we will monitor progress in relation to financial literacy, food science, and community engagement via a badging system wherein participants earn badges and financial incentives based on the demonstration of knowledge and skills acquisition. In addition, we will conduct strengths-based assessments using validated tools to explore changes in participants’ senses of generatively (future orientation), meaning-making, and subjective well-being, before and after the program.
Publications and presentations:
• Invite panel guest for “Living Lab” symposia held for the inauguration of Carnegie
Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian on October 26, 2018.
• Presented at Alliance for The Arts in Research Universities: 6th Annual National
Conference. Arts, Environments: Design, Resilience and Sustainability. November 1-
3, 2018 University of Georgia
• Presented at Fifteenth International Conference on Environmental, Cultural,
Economic & Social Sustainability in Vancouver, Canada. January 17-19 2019,
Please visit Night Owl Bakers Website to learn more.
Associate Professor, CMU School of Design
Studio Professor, CMU School of Design
Chatham University Falk School of Sustainability and Environment
Allegheny Health Department