TNA Class of 2024
TNA Senior, Samaira, of Penn Hills has had quite a summer participating in programs feeding her passion for math and engineering. Samaira has completed Carnegie Mellon University's five-week Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS) program, and a week-long program through Robert Morris University and NAIOP Pittsburgh to explore the world of commercial real estate.
“I absolutely love math and science, and someday I want to become a mechanical or civil engineer,” Samaira said. “These programs have been really cool. I lived on campus at CMU and met so many different people. It was nice seeing minorities like myself, too. The experience was very ‘college-like’ with the independence and freedom to meet the professors.”
Soon after Samaira completed the SAMS program, she went on to explore another potential career path: commercial real estate.
“At the Robert Morris NAIOP Pittsburgh program, my team and I won first place for our design of a new eco-friendly warehouse. It had solar panels and everything needed to reduce its carbon footprint. I even won a personal award for being the ‘Most Transformative’ since I was nervous and shy for the first few days.”
Samaira hopes to be accepted to North Carolina A&T State University, Harvard, Columbia, or Georgia Tech. She credits her love of engineering and math to a SeaPerch program in which she participated when she was in 5th-7th grades. SeaPerch is an educational tool that allows students to construct remotely operated underwater vehicles using engineering skills.
In her free time, she enjoys reading adventure books (her favorite being Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson), doing math equations out of her own practice booklet, and cycling with Pittsburgh Youth Leadership (PYL).
“Cycling is relaxing and fun to me, and I completed my first trip with PYL to Cumberland, MD in the spring,” Samaira said. “Friends would tell me all about the trips they would go on, and I was never sure about it. Then one day, I said, ‘Okay, sign me up.’”
Samaira is appreciative of TNA Math Instructor Jason Scott for his consistent help and guidance.
“Mr. Jason is my advisor, and I have always enjoyed the way he teaches and how he is able to drop everything to help students understand something,” she said. “Even if you had trouble with other classes’ homework, he would help you. He always made time to read over my U.S. History papers!”
Bob and Susan Edwards
Bob and Susan Edwards of Wexford are strong in their Christian faith and their advocacy of The Neighborhood Academy. Bob and Susan both worked for 30+ years at PNC Financial Services and GlaxoSmithKline, respectively, and are now enjoying their retirement through travel, volunteerism, and golf.
Susan was introduced to TNA in 2020 through Carolyn Sanford, Assistant Head of School for Development, and Susan’s former college roommate.
“We believe that education effectively sets up the trajectory of a person’s future. Thriving in school and making good life choices creates a solid tomorrow,” said Susan. “A value-based life can make a huge difference in society,” Bob agreed. “If I had a magic wand, I would do two things: give everyone a good education and open everyone’s eyes to faith. TNA does both from our perspective.”
Bob and Susan are also very supportive of Penn State where Bob serves as the vice chairman of the Schreyer Honors College’s External Advisory Board. The Edwards invited Honors College Dean Patrick Mather to join them to tour TNA. He was so impressed with the school and the students; he used the word ‘inspiring’ more than once to describe the school. Bob noted, “Each student we met at TNA looked us right in the eye, shook our hand, and welcomed us.”
Bob and Susan sponsor a student’s tuition every year and use the PA Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program to redirect their PA State tax liability to approved schools such as TNA and receive a 90% PA tax credit.
“The EITC program is so easy. It’s a little-known option, but it really lets our tax dollars work hard to help these students. We do it year after year,” said Susan.
Meet the Event Chairs
Steve Harms is an Assurance Trust partner within PwC’s Banking & Capital Markets practice with over 15 years of experience serving large national and multinational banks, multinational asset managers, fintech lending companies, government sponsored entities, private equity funds, and broker-dealers. He is an active member of The Neighborhood Academy’s Development Committee. Steve fulfills several internal firm roles at PwC such as serving as a member of the New Partner Advisory Committee, and a point partner for the firm’s Digital Innovation & Technology strategy.
Steve was introduced to TNA through fellow PwC partner, and current TNA Board Member, Kirsten Albert, and he has been instrumental in the success of the 2023 Speaker Series.
“Once I came to the school and started meeting the students, I knew it was the place for me. TNA’s mission aligns directly with two principal values of mine: faith and education.”
Steve is inspired by TNA students’ enthusiasm for learning and is motivated to even continue his own educational journey.
“The students help keep me feeling young, eager, and inspire me to be a better version of myself… Hearing all the individual success stories of the students/graduates – and knowing I may have had an ever-so-small part in helping them achieve their goals – is a feeling that can’t be replaced.”
Steve is inspired by Anthony Ray Hinton’s book The Sun Does Shine, and its message of perseverance, devotion, and unwavering faithfulness.
“Even after all the struggles the world has unjustly put upon him, his continued selflessness serves as a true inspiration for the greater community. What makes his message particularly noteworthy is his positive attitude and persistence to never give up hope for exoneration... His life serves as a reminder of the importance of equity and justice for all."
Steve is a father of three and enjoys being a volunteer coach on their baseball and soccer teams. He also loves going on long runs and taking his one-year-old daughter in her stroller along for the ride!
Meet the Event Chairs
Shevey and Annie Westbrook
Annie was born and raised in Pittsburgh! She majored in mathematics at The University of Pennsylvania, and upon graduating, she moved to Atlanta, GA, to teach high school math at Woodward Academy. In 2003 she returned to Pittsburgh to attend the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.
“After receiving my MBA, I started banking at Mellon Bank, moved onto TriState Capital Bank and now currently work for CIBC Bank USA out of the Frick Building downtown!” said Annie. “I am a Managing Director assisting middle market businesses with their financial needs from working capital lines of credit to term financing to managing risk via interest rate and commodity derivatives,” she continued.
Shevey grew up in Mt. Union, PA. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University with a bachelor’s degree in Material Science and Engineering, he moved to Atlanta and joined a specialty chemical company as a polymer and process development engineer. Annie and Shevey met on a soccer field in Atlanta!
“After 4 years in Atlanta, I made the decision to join Annie in Pittsburgh, where we subsequently got married, have 3 wonderful children, became part owners of Allegheny Performance Plastics, and live as quiet as a life as possible in Aspinwall!” said Shevey.
Prior to the full concept of TNA coming to life in 2001, Reverend Tom Johnson ran a summer program out of various churches across Pittsburgh. Annie tutored the students in math for multiple summers.
“I enjoyed every student I got to know and every interaction we had… I learned as much from my students as they learned from me!” she said.
When Annie and Shevey returned to Pittsburgh, they found ways to reengage with TNA: serving dinner to students with their Sunday school class, tutoring math, and hosting fundraising events.
Annie was even on the bank team that secured financing for the construction of TNA’s current campus on North Aiken Avenue!
Annie and Shevey were the Event Chairs for the 2021 Speaker Series featuring Wes Moore and are proud of be at the helm coordinating this special event again.
“The TNA Speaker Series is a wonderful platform to magnify the importance of telling your story. Each of our students has a unique story and is able to find their voice at TNA. Anthony Ray Hinton’s life and story is one of hope, perseverance, resilience, and strength. One can only be inspired by Ray’s ability to survive and thrive.”
TNA Class of 2018
Aniya Jackson is a TNA Graduate of the class of 2018 and recently earned her bachelor’s degree in Public Health from Slippery Rock University in August of 2022.
Currently, Aniya works as a Care Manager for LifeSpan, a non profit organization located in Homestead, PA, to assist senior citizens and their needs. Her duties as a care manager consists of offering support to Allegheny County residents aged 60 or older with a variety of services such as housing services, meals, and any other accommodations they may need in their senior living communities.
“I’ve always been the kind of person who likes or takes pride in helping and assisting other people.” Aniya adds.
When asked about her college experience, Aniya lets out a sigh of relief and sums up her college experience in a few words, “Covid happened,” after letting out a brief chuckle, she elaborated. Despite two of her four years at SRU being virtual, she did her best to remain involved on campus in student organizations when the opportunities presented themselves. “Freshman year was one of my easier years, and I can credit that to the work ethic TNA instilled in me throughout my years there and thanks to my Jumpstart program.” – A freshman orientation program where incoming freshmen move-in to the dorms early to familiarize themselves with their classmates and the campus.
“The workload was more manageable than I'd expected thanks to all of the prep that TNA had done with me beforehand (writing long papers, reading and annotating, studying outside of class, etc.). I can say that thanks to that, I was better prepared than my peers for college”
During her sophomore and junior years, we were faced with the pandemic and Aniya was forced to adapt from being in class everyday, to attending all of her classes virtually. Aniya says it was not an easy adjustment for her during that time. “I’m not the biggest fan of virtual classes,” she explained “It was hard for me to stay motivated for classes when I could attend them in my pajamas, but I was determined to finish what I had started.” She persevered until eventually the campus was reopened by the end of her junior year, and the students were invited to come back to Slippery Rock. This was when she began to get more involved in student organizations on campus. It was then that she became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority incorporated, and became the president of an organization on campus called Queens, a black student run organization which serves as a safe space for minorities on campus, primarily focused but not limited to the African American community on Slippery Rock’s campus.
As for the future , Aniya has hopes of going back to school to pursue a postgraduate degree, although she is unsure of what she wants to major in at the moment. “I’m not 100% certain about my decision yet,” she says, “a few of my peers are pursuing their master’s degrees which is encouraging to me and make[s] me want to give it a try, but I’m also at a place in my life where I am trying to figure out what is next for me professionally.”
Aniya says that she has many fond TNA memories, she was a student athlete participating in volleyball and track & field, but she says her fondest memory was having the opportunity to travel abroad with The Neighborhood Academy to Barcelona, Madrid and France.
“It was this experience that opened my eyes to the beauty of travel and learning about different cultures, and it made me want to explore more!” Aniya says. “I remember it snowing in France and it was cold, and the students from a different school in Florida were so surprised seeing snow for the first time and meanwhile us Pittsburghers are like ‘we’re used to this’ and we had a laugh about it.”
Aniya shared this bit of advice from all her experiences: , “Don’t be afraid to put yourself in positions to be more knowledgeable. You never know what you’re going to learn and where it can take you.” She also adds “Don't be afraid to try something and fail, there’s lessons in that and lastly, be open minded because an open mind can take you a lot further than a close mind can.”
TNA Class of 2023
Sierra Rose Riley
Valedictorian for the Class of 2023 and Penn Hills native, Sierra Rose Riley will be staying in the ‘burgh to study science at Chatham University. Sierra has a knack for transforming her biggest fears into her biggest strengths.
“The things that interest me the most now are the things that scared me the most growing up,” Sierra said. “I had a fear of meteors crashing into the earth, so I studied space and now want to become an astronomer… I also had a fear of the ocean and the creatures that inhabit it, so I studied the ocean, and now I would also like to study marine biology!... Ask me anything about sharks, and I can answer it for you.”
Sierra is excited to be named the Valedictorian of her class.
“Being Valedictorian is crazy to me! I didn’t even know it was a thing when I first started here at TNA in eighth grade!”
In her free time, Sierra enjoys reading nonfiction books – particularly science and philosophy.
“My love for philosophy also came from the fear of death and mortal existence. Socrates and Seneca are two philosophers who studied death, so I like reading about what they had to say. My love of philosophy sparked a love of astronomy; they kind of go hand-in-hand,” said Sierra.
Over the summer, she plans to work with Science Instructor Dr. Diane Nutbrown on some physics projects.
“I want to earn my masters or a doctorate in either Marine Biology, Astrobiology, or Astronomy,” Sierra said.
Sierra credits her mother for her love of Biology.
“My mother studied Biology and worked downtown at a blood bank, and I would spend a lot of time with her there. When I was nine, I remember looking through books on the human skeletal and digestive systems and being fascinated with how complex it all was.”
“I love science because it is both analytical and creative,” she said. “I want to do something that has the right amount of wonder and structure to it.”
TNA Class of 2012
Claire Johnson, ‘12, is a Program Director for Ability Connection in Dallas, Texas. She finds her purpose in life through offering care to those struggling with mental health diagnoses and those with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD). Ability Connection has been providing services for adults with IDD for over 70 years. Claire’s department oversees three residential group homes in the DFW area. She currently has 18 clients in her homes and supervises 25 employees.
“When people’s lives are involved, you have to be hands-on at all times. The job is very rewarding, though,” said Claire. “I really enjoy serving those with severe mental health disabilities. They are the most misunderstood and they are most times labeled the ‘outcasts’ of society, so being able to build relationships with them is special. I take pride in my ability to not only make them feel seen, but valued.”
Claire said she enjoys her job because every day is a new challenge.
“Some days I’m working with families or coordinating with staff, and some days I’m observing and training staff in the homes. However most times I am on phone calls, sending e-mails, or attending meetings, there is never a dull moment.” said Claire.
Before her position at Ability Connection, Claire worked as a community case manager for TRUE Mental Health, providing intensive outpatient case management to adults living with severe mental health disorders. She credits her previous position at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital for preparing her for the duties in her roles in Dallas.
“I was out in the community, sometimes meeting with the homeless under bridges or in the homes of those struggling to with their quality of life due to their diagnosis. I would provide different services to them such as finding housing or getting them started with different benefits like Medicare, etc.,” she said.
Prior to relocating, Claire also worked at FamilyLinks for two years, providing direct care to adolescents who were in a group home setting receiving behavioral intervention.
Claire earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. She is currently working towards her Master of Social Work at The University of Texas at Arlington, where she just completed her first year with a 4.0 GPA. She has plans to become a licensed clinical social worker and do individual therapy for adults, while serving as a hospital social worker on the side.
Claire interned at The Neighborhood Academy working in the girls group counseling during Summer Session. She credits former TNA girls counselor, Debbie Krochka, for helping her find her passion.
“Debbie is my girl. Her approach to counseling was unique and impactful. She was one of the first people that encouraged me to go into my field. If I did not move to Dallas, she always said I should take over her role at TNA when she retired.” said Claire.
While Claire playfully considers herself a “workaholic,” she always finds time for her Labrador-Pointer mix, Ari, sleeping, and the occasional happy hour!
Sally Ann Bensur
Sally Ann Bensur has worn many hats in her professional life and now wears many hats in her support of The Neighborhood Academy. Sally Ann retired from BNY Mellon after 30 years doing everything from strategic sales and corporate relationship management, to treasury management and consulting. After two years of retirement, she returned to the workforce at The Boys and Girls Club of America, where she developed cause marketing partnerships with corporate clients. Today, Sally Ann dedicates her time, treasure, and leadership skills to TNA.
“Take one guess who got me involved with TNA in 2012. It should come as no surprise it was Jodie Moore! My husband, Bill and I attended a cocktail party at a mutual friend’s home, where I was introduced to Jodie. Naturally, the conversation turned to TNA, and she asked me if I was familiar with the school. After a few minutes of infectious conversation about TNA, Jodie invited me to visit the school and take a tour. For those who know Jodie, they will understand when I say I couldn’t say “no” to her invitation!. At the conclusion of my tour, Jodie and I sat for a few minutes discussing my impressions: It was clear TNA was doing something very special for kids. I walked out of the building with a pledge form in hand, ready to sign,” said Sally Ann.
From then on, Sally Ann served on several Nancy & Paul O’Neill Speaker Series’ Host Committees, the Development Committee and chaired the Nominating and Governance Committee. Today, she plays an important role on the Board of Directors and in TNA’s Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools (PAIS) accreditation process.
“My favorite memory of the school was when Bill and I hosted an event at our home to introduce our friends and neighbors to TNA. We were joined by a current TNA student, Elijia, who spoke briefly and eloquently about TNA and the impact it had on his life. So impactful were his words that several guests gave us checks for TNA as they departed for the evening. The story is just that compelling.”
Sally Ann and Bill continue their support for TNA through the PA Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program, where they redirect their PA State tax liability to approved schools such as TNA and receive a 90% PA tax credit.
“Bill and I used to ‘sprinkle the infield’ with our charitable giving and gave to many deserving organizations that needed financial support. With such fragmented gift giving, we weren’t sure about the impact we were making. Consequently, we decided to consolidate our gifts and contribute one major gift to a special institution,” she said. “The EITC program makes it so much easier to give at higher levels, and it’s a win-win for the taxpayer and TNA. We love supporting TNA. It is certainly the place that continues to stand out and where we have tangible evidence our contributions have the greatest impact.”
"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27
Sheran Zellous White, Founder and Executive Director of the Five James Foundation, has found that being a guiding light to widows, orphans, and struggling women in Pittsburgh is her own special way of healing herself from personal tragedy. Sheran started the Five James Foundation after the tragic losses of five loved ones: husband, William James White Jr.; son, William James White III; two grandsons, William James White IV and Jordan James White (both sons of her deceased son); and nephew, James Dwaine Zellous. Thus the name: Five James Foundation.
Broken, but deeply rooted in her faith, Sheran needed a way to find solace from her grieving after these few years of heartbreaking losses.
“I spoke with my pastor at Allegheny Center Alliance Church. He would take short term mission trips to Africa, and told me that the Lord was speaking to him and wanted me to go to Kenya with him,” Sheran said. “I went kicking and screaming.”
There in Kenya, Sheran met five widows, with whom she built a relationship. The camaraderie between the women was strong and comforting. Through the Five James Foundation, these women launched businesses and became self-sufficient. From this point, Sheran realized that giving comfort to fellow widows and those grieving was her calling.
“I know what it’s like to hurt. I know what deep grief does to a person. I trusted in the Lord’s timing and realized my spiritual gift,” said Sheran. “I am driven to help people; it’s the way I’m wired… Today, the Five James Foundation supports 110 widows, and I give comfort by personally reaching out to each and every one of them.”
She was introduced to The Neighborhood Academy by former Board Member, Brenda Frazier, and has been an active supporter of TNA’s mission and vision ever since. The Five James Foundation has a scholarship for students living with single parents, and a few TNA students have been recipients of this generous scholarship.
“Not having an education can be a route to destruction and lack of productivity in society. The Neighborhood Academy reinforces the importance of a well-rounded education in these young people. Saving youth who otherwise would be overlooked is an amazing task,” Sheran said.
Today, Sheran works as the Community Care Director at Allegheny Center Alliance Church and spends Wednesday nights facilitating the church’s grief recovery support meetings.
TNA Class of 2023
The Neighborhood Academy Senior Antonio lives with his head in the clouds. After a rigorous school day, you can find Antonio in one of two places: either performing on stage for Alumni Theater Company or in Aviation and Flight Training at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). Graduating in May 2023, this 18-year-old is ready to spread his wings.
“I take a Private Pilot Theory course and an Air Traffic Control course at CCAC for roughly seven hours a week,” he said. ” I already have two flight lessons down!”
Antonio has a few options of what he plans on doing after graduation – both involving serving his country. Having traveled with TNA’s students and faculty to Europe, he sees himself catching the Travel Bug.
“My plan is to be in active duty in the Air Force for 10-15 years and maybe become a commercial pilot. It is a pretty lucrative career, plus I would get to travel a lot. I feel like that would be a good lifestyle for me,” Antonio said.
Antonio lives by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote, “If you can't fly, then run; if you can't run, then walk; if you can't walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
It goes without saying, Antonio definitely stays in constant motion.
While he attends his classes at CCAC two days a week, Antonio is also an active member in the Alumni Theater Company where he performs, writes, sings, raps, and dances. He enjoys performing show tunes from Moulin Rouge and The Addams Family musical, but his favorite role to date is everyone’s favorite cartoon beagle (who’s also a pilot).
“The stage has been my creative outlet since second grade. My favorite role was playing Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I was the lead in this show, had two solos, and it took me out of my comfort zone. Plus, the small crew I performed with is like my family. Once I know we have a production together, I know it will be fire,” said Antonio.
Antonio credits The Neighborhood Academy for setting the stage for his future.
“The Neighborhood Academy had me thinking about what I want my future to look like. The school is a gateway,” he said. Soon I’ll be walking out one door and walking through another one.”