Be Our Guest

By Brian Conway and Will Halim

Tavia Ramsey receives anywhere between 30-60 calls a day. As Intake Coordinator at Community Human Services, Ms. Ramsey is the first voice a potential client hears when they call the Strip District charity in search of assistance.

“I keep it moving,” she says. “It can be intense, but if there’s a resource available to someone, I’ll find it.”


Founded in 1970, CHS provides housing assistance, medical screenings, mental health programs, a free food pantry and more to anyone in immediate need. Their motto? “Everybody has value.”

“We cover everyone,” says Sara Richardson, Family Support Specialist at CHS. “Refugees, homeless, trauma, regardless of circumstances we never send anyone away with nothing. And we don’t judge anyone.”

Three years ago Richardson was working in Tampa Bay, Florida, volunteering with the homeless in her spare time, when a chance encounter led her to her current position with CHS. “I’ve never been more excited to work somewhere,” she says.

Richardson says that it takes a special type of person to work at CHS and that selflessness is one of the most important character traits to have in this line of work. She stresses that CHS goes out of its way to offer self-help services like meditation to their employees, but even then, the work can take its toll.

“It’s hard because we see people at their lowest,” she says. After CHS administers assistance, they may never hear from a client again. And with homelessness worse than it has ever been in Allegheny County, there isn’t much time to reflect on past success.

So what better way to celebrate those successes than by throwing a party?

On July 30, CHS hosted their inaugural Customer Appreciation Day for past and current clients. There was Rita’s Italian Ice, a bouncy castle, free haircuts and manicures, clothing, health screenings, bingo, and what seemed like enough Manny and Carol’s pizza to feed Pitt’s entire incoming freshman class.

“Asking for help is hard,” adds Kihra Kohler, CHS’s Lead Hoarding Disorder Specialist. “This is our way of thanking them for letting us help.”

CHS Chief Residential Officer Brandi Harrison stresses that CHS helps people from all walks of life, and that no two cases are the same. She shares stories of elderly individuals who found themselves in need after the death of a spouse, and another of a man with two Master’s Degrees who became homeless after an arrest for an outstanding speeding ticket. Lately, she finds that more and more people in need of assistance are veterans.

“We are a strengths-based organization,” says Harrison. “We need to know the bad, but we also need to push and affirm the good to get people through challenging times.”

CHS is currently unable to accept new clients for housing assistance, due to a lingering budget impasse in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Despite this frustrating state of affairs, none of the staff expressed any bitterness or resignation. To a person, everyone stressed that they would continue to help others with the resources available, for no other reason than it was the right thing to do.

“We care about helping people,” says Natalie Ryan, CHS Customer Assistance Administrator. “It doesn’t matter how or where or when—just that it gets done.”

One of the first things Storyburgh witnessed upon arrival at Customer Appreciation Day was Executive Director Adrienne Walnoha carrying a pair of heavy chairs down the hallway like a couple of empty pails. Several of her colleagues offered to carry the chairs for her, but her purposeful stride made it clear she was fine on her own: something needed done, so she did it.

Then it was on to the next task.

“I work with the most amazing people,” says Richardson. “From the janitor to the CEO, everyone is an advocate.”

Do you know ........... ?

If you are clients or former clients (or if you know one) of CHS Corp and other Human Services organization, please contact us. With your permission, we would like to share your stories — both struggles and successes — so we all can learn from them.

Don’t worry if writing and taking pictures are not your forte, we will work together with you.

Story Credits

Writer: Brian Conway
Photographer and Producer: Will Halim

Disclaimer: the narrative expressed in the article is solely those of the author(s).
if you find this story offensive or inaccurate in any way, please contact us for (re)moderation. Please make sure your phone# is accurate to receive our call.

Underwritten By:

Are you angered by the death of George Floyd? We are.

Are you concerned that property destruction and violence are driving the focus away from peaceful and just demonstrations? We are.

Are you ready for Pittsburgh to go back to normal? We are not.

Murder in broad daylight, by agents of the state, is horrific and shocking and cannot stand.

But there are many other and more subtle ways to choke life from BIPOC, all very normal in the before times, such as:

All of this normal, accepted behavior is slow motion violence:  failing to act systematically, diligently and persistently, as documented by a scathing scientific study (commissioned by City of Pittsburgh) that indicates that Pittsburgh is the worst city in America for Black People.

Yes, we ALL want to feel comfortable and good about ourselves– displaying black screen as avatars, discussing/arguing in social media echo-chambers, posting public statements that you “stand with them.” But feeling comfortable without changing a thing at the expense of BIPOC, especially our Black brothers and sisters, can no longer be an option.

Please watch this video of Van Jones about latent danger of racism and then look at yourself at the mirror. Next, ask people in your own network and circle of influence to do the same.

Back to the old normal is not acceptable.

What are you going to do to create a better now?


Will Halim
Founding Director of Storyburgh


Storyburgh is run by freelancers/part-timers who each have own individual views. The opinion expressed here is my own and does not represent that of the entire group.


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