This story, written by Cristina Rouvalis, originally appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of Pitt Magazine.
Had she made a different choice, Jenna Baron would be networking with other Ivy League students right now, finishing her master’s degree in social work at Columbia University.
All she had to do was accept Columbia’s offer.
But this afternoon, she isn’t in New York City; she’s in Crafton Heights, a neighborhood in far western Pittsburgh. It’s a rainy, damp day. As she stands on the sidewalk with the humidity fogging her tortoiseshell glasses, she peers across the street, searching for children who many Pittsburghers don’t notice.
Soon, she spots two familiar faces. “Kuja!” she shouts, a Swahili word for “Come!” The youngsters—Amani and Ruth—look both ways and, when it’s clear, scurry across the street. Baron (A&S ’15) greets the first arrivals with a hug, and they quickly seek shelter from the downpour by climbing into Baron’s parked car.
Except for the rain, this is part of Baron’s afternoon routine. After school is out, she meets Amani, Ruth, and several other children—all refugees and immigrants—and stays with them until their volunteer mentors arrive to drive the children to a nearby after-school program created by the Alliance for Refugee Youth Support and Education (ARYSE). Baron is executive director of ARYSE, a nonprofit she helped develop after tutoring refugee children as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh.
Nine-year-old Amani, whose family was forced out of the Congo, has news for Baron. He tells her he has seen her on Facebook.
“Oh, so you’re on Facebook now?” Baron teases playfully.
The little girl next to him, Ruth, is shy, unsure of her English. But when Baron gently asks her what’s new, she whispers that she turned 10 the day before.
“It was my birthday, too!” exclaims Baron. “Ruth, we’re birthday sisters!”
A big smile spreads across Ruth’s face.
Continue reading this story in Pitt Magazine.