She came to the Alle-Kiski Valley to report on it. Now she devotes her life to helping it.
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series that features Alle-Kiski Valley residents and the notable things they do.
Community activist Tricia Ritchie is set to celebrate her nonprofit’s one-year anniversary.
“I feel we started something that can only get better and better,” Ritchie said. “I am amazed at how much we’ve accomplished for how small we are.”
The Building Block of Natrona was launched last September to create strategic partnerships and bring resources to this Harrison neighborhood. Its first outreach program was in October called Veggies for All.
Volunteers distributed produce to residents in need regardless of their income. The initiative is bolstered by Pittsburgh nonprofit 412 Food Rescue, which partners with food retailers and groups to help eliminate food waste.
Veggies for All continues every third Saturday of the month from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus hall at 28 Garfield St.
Building Block of Natrona has about 16 active members.
“The roster of people is small, but they’re dedicated,” Ritchie said. “Volunteers are block builders. They are totally sold on serving their neighbors in Natrona.”
Other programs include the Cosmetic Closet, where people can pick up personal care and hygiene items, and a summer snack program at the Natrona Community Park.
Ritchie, 49, of Lower Burrell, grew up in Cleveland. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Kent State University in 1992 and started her reporting career in January 1993 with the Valley News Dispatch.
She worked the crime beat across the Alle-Kiski Valley through 2001.
“You meet a wide range of people,” Ritchie said. “You have to be a real person and have to grow a thick skin. I took no joy in speaking to the family of a crime victim, and I took no joy in speaking to the family of a defendant.
“I think the journalism experience was a blessing because it taught me how government works.
“It taught me how and where resources are, so starting that part of the nonprofit wasn’t as challenging. It makes all the difference in the world where to find the needle in the haystack and where to make that first phone call.”
Ritchie also found love in the newsroom. She married former Valley News Dispatch/Tribune-Review reporter-turned Port Authority Chief Communications Officer Jim Ritchie in April 1999 when they were both reporters. They have two daughters: Lindsay, 18, and Natalie, 16.
“They say, ‘Don’t do that,’ but I did,” Ritchie said about an office romance. “He has just been a tremendous, tremendous support for me doing this, and so have my daughters.”
Ritchie left the Tribune-Review in 2001 to start her family. She became a certified minister with the Assemblies of God in 2004 and left in 2017 to start her charity.
The time in the church allowed her to refocus on humanitarian efforts and change her mindset after years of covering shootings, stabbings and other emergencies and mayhem.
“Serving in the church grew my capacity for compassion,” Ritchie said. “Working with church leadership reminded me, ‘It’s about the people and not the process.’ It was basically humanity rehab, and I’m very grateful for the people who mentored me and people who still mentor me.”
Ritchie lived in New Kensington and Vandergrift before settling with the family in Lower Burrell.
There was one Alle-Kiski Valley neighborhood she really connected with during her reporting days.
“I fell in love with Natrona,” she said. “I love the grit. I love how people are real and care about their community.
“There is no-second guessing in Natrona. People either like you or they don’t. It’s just such a humbling experience to be accepted by the neighborhood.”
Ritchie also remains active in several other organizations, including co-chairing the Highlands Partnership Network.
It was founded last year to help people in Tarentum, Harrison, Brackenridge and Fawn.
Ritche says it is a collaboration of government, nonprofit and faith-based people within the Highlands School District working together to promote the region’s strengths and make sure everyone succeeds.
More information about Building Block of Natrona is available at everyblockcounts.org.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .