Community Connections

Celebrating Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary by engaging citizens and contributing to the “Pride & Progress” of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Monumental sculpture “The Workers” nears completion
Former LTV Steel Hazelwood site, November 2008  photo: Nathan Schritter

A Grassroots Celebration

Community Connections was a regional grantmaking program led by The Sprout Fund on the occasion of the Pittsburgh region’s 250th anniversary. In partnership with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, and dozens of other partners, Community Connections granted nearly $1 million to 100 projects across 14 counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Community Connections engaged citizens, addressed pressing issues, left a lasting impact on communities, and contributed to the “Pride & Progress” of Southwestern Pennsylvania in 2008. Led by established and emerging civic leaders, these initiatives created a critical mass of grassroots activity throughout the anniversary year.

Community Connections was divided into four phases: Idea Generation & Solicitation, Project Selection, Project Execution, and Reporting & Documentation.

In summer 2007, Sprout invited neighborhoods, communities, and civic organizations in Southwestern Pennsylvania to “Imagine What You Can Do Here.” A coordinated outreach campaign was conducted to garner ideas from across the 14-county region and encourage the submission of applications from as diverse a network as possible. Ultimately, in fall 2007, 558 applications were received for consideration.

Sprout used a community-based decisionmaking model to select 100 projects to receive support. 270 people participated as part of 15 decisionmaking teams, one for each of the 14 counties and one regional committee. All meetings were held in person and used the scoring and selection process that was originally developed for the Seed Award program.

Throughout 2008, in addition to grant dollars, Sprout provided each project with technical assistance and marketing support and fostered collaboration between related projects. A significant effort was made to professionally document and capture the people, projects, and activities that had a role in making these projects a success, resulting in the 2009 release of Making the Connections, a collection of stories about the funded projects and their impact on their communities.

The program marked the first time that Sprout’s footprint expanded beyond Pittsburgh and proved that Sprout’s community decisionmaking model was effective in geographically diverse environments. Community Connections also represented Sprout’s first deep dive into program documentation, which resulted in an increased focus on professional photography and writing for many future funding programs.

Community Connections

Program In Brief

Years Active


Total Investment


Funded Projects



14 counties of Southwestern PA


Making the Connections Video Trailer

At the conclusion of Community Connections, The Sprout Fund released a book that captured stories and photos from the initiative. This video shares some of the best examples of people and projects we supported.

Funded Project Highlights

Community Connections projects represented the vibrancy of Southwestern Pennsylvania both geographically and in terms of project focus, with applicants ranging from churches and community organizations to museums, schools, artists, and even farmers.

Regional Projects

A panel of regional leaders, including representatives from all 14 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties, selected 12 compelling initiatives as Regional Projects to receive awards up to $50,000.

Grassroots Projects

Separate panels of community leaders were convened in each county to review the proposals developed by local residents, and these panels selected 88 Grassroots Projects to receive awards up to $5,000.

Programmatic Activities

Community events were used throughout all four phases of Community Connections. Citizens were engaged in each step of the process: people participated in idea generation, decisionmaking, and project management, and ultimately they enjoyed celebrating the success of these 100 projects.

Ideation Sessions

Ideation Sessions

Outreach and ideation events were held in all 14 counties. Sprout used graphic facilitation as a tool to document the meetings and explore project ideas.

Grassroots Decisionmaking

Grassroots Decisionmaking

14 decisionmaking teams were seated to make decisions about grassroots applications, one per county. This model emphasized Sprout’s focus on hyper-local decisionmaking.

Regional Decisionmaking Forum

Regional Decisionmaking Forum

A regional committee comprised of leaders from across Southwestern PA participated in the Forum, where they heard regional applicants’ final pitches and selected winners.

Announcement Event

Announcement Event

Funded projects, community leaders, government officials, and the media gathered at the top of the Regional Enterprise Tower for the announcement of the selected projects.

Culminating Event

Culminating Event

At the end of the program, project leaders gathered to reflect on the accomplishments of the anniversary year and celebrate Community Connections’ many successes.

<em>Making the Connections</em> Book

Making the Connections Booksave_alt

Working with author Justin Hopper and a team of local photographers, Sprout collected the stories and images of Community Connections in a commemorative book published in 2009.


Thank you to all those who made this program possible!


  • Atlas America
  • Armstrong County Community Foundation
  • Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation
  • BNY Mellon
  • Citizens Bank
  • Community Foundation for the Alleghenies
  • The Community Foundation of Fayette County
  • The Community Foundation of Greene County
  • Community Foundation of Western PA & Eastern OH
  • The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County
  • Fifth Third Bank
  • First Commonwealth
  • The Grable Foundation
  • The Hillman Foundation
  • Jewish Healthcare Foundation
  • Laurel Foundation
  • Richard King Mellon Foundation
  • National City Bank of Pennsylvania
  • NiSource Charitable Foundation
  • The Pittsburgh Foundation
  • PNC Financial Services Group
  • Donald & Sylvia Robinson Family Foundation


  • Allegheny Conference on Community Development
  • Pittsburgh 250, Inc.
  • deepLocal
  • Landesberg Design
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • WDUQ 90.5 FM

Community Connections Committee Co-Chairs

  • Aradhna Dhanda Leadership Pittsburgh
  • Cathy Lewis Long The Sprout Fund
  • George Miles Jr. WQED Multimedia


  • Dustin Stiver
  • Timothy Blevins
  • Ryan Coon
  • Matt Hannigan
  • Mac Howison
  • Cathy Lewis Long
  • Justin Hopper documentarian
  • Nate Boguszewski photographer
  • Alexander Denmarsh photographer
  • Nathan Schritter photographer