Senior Spotlight | Sierra Rose Riley
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.”
Alumni Spotlight | Claire Johnson
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!
Supporters Corner | Sally Ann Bensur
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.”
Supporters Corner | Sheran Zellous White
"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.
Senior Spotlight | Antonio
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.”
Alumni Spotlight | Shataya Taylor
TNA Class of 2018
Shataya Taylor, TNA class of 2018, is good to the people in her life – big or small. Having earned her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh in May 2022, Shataya is aiming to achieve her Masters in fall 2023. Social Work blends the disciplines of counseling, psychology, and sociology, but Shataya is a believer in a few other passions that allow her to be the best in the field: family, networking, and hard work.
“I am currently doing my second internship at Children, Youth, and Families Services as part of the Masters program. On top of that, I am a Research Assistant at Pitt studying how black parents raise children with autism. When this study is completed, I will be studying black fatherhood and early childhood programs and the challenges they face,” said Shataya. “I really enjoy working with children and youth, and want to pursue that area the most.”
Shataya is also a part-time building cleaner and is a student mentor at TNA. Although she is extremely busy with her career, Shataya always finds time for family – especially being an inspiration to her “little people:” a brother, age 3, and two sisters, ages 5 and 8.
“The three don’t care how old I am, and they encourage me in the littlest of ways. They came to my graduation, and were so proud of me. Sometimes they come and visit the university with my dad! It’s in our family nature to cheer on family,” said Shataya.
Shataya’s parents are her inspiration in life, and she credits them for her desire to help others. She has unintentionally followed in her father’s footsteps with her passion for Social Work.
“My dad works is a Social Worker at Pitt, and believe it or not, he didn’t want me to get into the field,” she laughed. “It’s not that he didn’t believe in me. You have to have a big heart and a strong mind to be in the field… I’m being an ‘open ear’ for children, and it can be difficult hearing what they are going through. I am prepared for anything, and I’m here to help them. I can’t see myself being comfortable in any other field other than Social Work.”
Shataya also enjoys hanging out with her friends, hitting the gym, doing yoga, and going for walks (during the warmer months). She also enjoys networking and meeting people in her field.
Alumni Spotlight | Desmond Hargrove
TNA Class of 2018
Desmond Hargrove, TNA Class of ’18, is the Outreach and Impact Coordinator at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA where he oversees the YMCA’s youth afterschool programs. He got involved with the YMCA through the Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience (PULSE,) an organization that cultivates a community of talented university graduates to partner with Pittsburgh nonprofits for service and leadership. Desmond graduated from Allegheny College in spring 2022 with a degree in Communications and a minor in Community Justice.
“I coordinate events and manage the YMCA’s marketing efforts, creating their newsletter, posting content for their social media channels, and shooting photography… I enjoy working with the community – it has become a crucial part of who I am,” said Desmond.
At TNA, Desmond’s favorite memories are volunteering at the Rainbow Kitchen in Homestead, Brightside Academy in East Liberty, and senior citizen homes in the area. In college, he was part of the Allegheny Bonner Service Leader Program – a civic engagement program where students who dedicate 8-10 hours per week working with local community organizations can earn scholarships. At 23 years old, Desmond wants to continue serving his community full-time.
“My goal is to help people get out of situations where they feel like they’re just surviving. I want to lead people to a place where they can thrive. There is a common theme of people just ‘getting by,’ and I want to have a hand in offering motivation, giving people a chance to express themselves and enjoy life,” said Desmond.
Cycling with the Pittsburgh Youth Leadership (PYL) and TNA students is a hobby that Desmond continues to participate in today. In December 2022, he completed a trip from North Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia, with the group – one of many previous excursions.
“I have been cycling with PYL since my junior year at TNA. Our first trip was cycling through Alaska! It was not as cold as I expected, the mountains, forest and wildlife were amazing… Today, I ride as a staff member/mentor on these trips, teaching the students how to ride and be more self-sufficient.”
Desmond’s siblings Jocelyn, TNA Class of ’22, and Nathan, TNA Class of ’23, are following in his footsteps, and he looks forward to seeing them flourish.
“It’s great to see how they have grown and how this school has impacted them. I look forward to seeing them continue to develop themselves in the next chapters of their lives.”
Alumni Spotlight | Kierra Arnold
TNA Class of 2012
Kierra Arnold ‘12, earned a Bachelor’s degree in Social work from Youngstown State University. Currently working as a family based therapist for Wesley Family Services, Kierra plays a vital role in providing behavioral health treatment services to children and adolescents, from as young as 4 years old up to the age of 18. The children she serves are typically at risk for a variety of issues ranging from mental health to probational needs. Kierra works in the home setting with her consumers as well as any family members in the household that would like to be involved in the treatment services.
When asked what drove her into the social work profession Kierra says she has always been a very personable person that loved to get a deeper understanding of individuals. She has always inquired about people, what has impacted them, and what has shaped them to be the person they are today.
She states “Having an inquiring mind paired with the desire to help families is what led me into social work.”
When asked about her hobbies she mentioned that she enjoyed reading and also listening to different podcasts related to her profession. However, Kierra attributes her main hobby to raising her 2 year old daughter, Kara, who enjoys dancing, being on Tik Tok, and loves involving Kierra in festivities.
“My experiences throughout my profession are transferable to motherhood and vice versa. Some of the methods and techniques that I use at work make raising my daughter as a single mother that much easier.”
As far as her future is concerned, Kierra has aspirations of running her own practice one day, and she is looking to attend graduate school in the fall to pursue her masters degree in social work.
TNA is a part of her DNA, Kierra has younger siblings that have attended and graduated from TNA throughout various years including her younger sister Briana and younger brother, Micah Arnold who graduated in 2018 and is now a member of the TNA board of directors. Also a major reason why The Neighborhood Academy was on her radar was because her aunt, Marley Barnette - Class of 2011, was also a student at TNA.
“She (Marley) is the reason my mother knew about TNA in the first place.” Kierra recalls.
A student athlete while in attendance at TNA, she attributes some of her fondest memories to the various winning basketball seasons she had and bringing championship banners back to the school.
“There’s too many memories to count. From the high moments to even the low moments during our basketball seasons. But through it all – It was all fun.”
Supporters Corner | Alan Citron
Alan Citron has been supporting The Neighborhood Academy since it opened its doors, and he is always staying up-to-date on the school’s news and happenings.
Alan grew up in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh before spending three years in New Jersey and San Francisco. By the 80’s, he ended up back in the Steel City and began working at Tamco Tools in Monongahela, PA, where he eventually became President and CEO in 2001. That same year, he was introduced to TNA by Joe Massaro, CEO of Massaro Construction Group, and TNA Board Chair at the time.
“I remember speaking with Joe and hearing all about The Neighborhood Academy… The school was just getting off the ground, and it sounded good and impactful, so I was happy to support it,” said Alan.
Alan is always happy to hear of TNA’s continued excellence through old fashioned 1:1 conversations with other Pittsburgh professionals.
“I hear about the school and how well it is doing through a mix of people. Most recently, Charlie Ferrara, Past TNA Board Chair, gave me an update. Then the next thing you know, Jonathan Kamin, a member of the Board of Trustees at Shady Side Academy was giving me an update! The school does many good things, and the track record just gets better and better… Education is vital, and I am incredible impressed by these young students.”
Today, Alan continues his support for The Neighborhood Academy through the PA Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program, where he can redirect his PA State tax liability to approved schools such as TNA and receive a 90% credit.
“It’s important to me to give to a viable cause, and through the EITC Program, I know that when the check gets cut, it’s going directly to The Neighborhood Academy as a 100% charitable contribution.”
Alumni Spotlight | Keenu Harmon
TNA Class of 2010
Keenu Harmon, ’10, is in the business of helping people, and is proud to be taking her talents to Milton Hershey School – a cost-free, private, co-residential school and home for lower-income children located in Hershey, PA – as their new Transitional Living Assistant.
Keenu is the first of her family to graduate with post-secondary education and the first of her family to move away multiple times. Having graduated from Edinboro University in 2014 with a major in Criminal Justice and minor in Sociology, Keenu first had her sights set on law enforcement.
“I wanted to be a police officer for the longest time and even interviewed for a few positions,” Keenu said. “After working at Summit Academy as a drug and alcohol counselor with court-adjudicated youths, and The Neighborhood Academy as an Executive Assistant, I realized my passion for being a role model for students… I love advising students and preparing them for whatever life throws their way.”
Keenu started her new position in August at Milton Hershey School and looks forward to living on campus and being a life design champion for the 12th Graders.
“My goal is to make sure students always have a voice… either they speak for themselves, or I can help do it for them,” she said.
Keenu considers herself a life-long-learner and listens to many self-improvement podcasts to always better herself. Her favorites are “7 Good Minutes Daily Self-Improvement,” “The Jordan Harbinger Show Podcast,” “Think Fast, Talk Smart,” and “All Else Equal: Making Better Decisions.”
“I drive a lot and tend to listen to the same music. I started listening to these podcasts and take away so many helpful things that help me and my work,” she said.
Keenu credits her mother for her drive and for making her who she has become personally and professionally.
“I believe that the foundation of oneself starts at home. My mother is a hard worker, the sole provider, and the ‘mom and the dad’ in my family,” she said. “I credit so much of who I have become all the way to my core to her.”