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Kittanning woman heads Pittsburgh magnet project

| Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001

Kristen Szymkowiak is pumping new life into the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project now that she's the organization's executive director.

Szymkowiak, 33, of Kittanning was appointed to the new position as PUMP's director in Pittsburgh in May after serving as a community liaison for Armstrong County Memorial Hospital in East Franklin. She was among more than 100 other candidates for the job.

About PUMP
PUMP, short for Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, was developed in 1995 to provide a forum affecting young people. The Pittsburgh-based organization holds forums to educate members about civic, social and political events.

The non-profit organization is funded on corporate foundation grants.

To learn more

Call 412-338-2133, check out the web site at www.pump.org or come to an event. Membership is $25 per year.
PUMP's target age is from 22-35, although some members are older and some younger. Szymkowiak said it's a group of young professionals who get together to find ways to voice concerns.

'I want to refine what we do,' Szymkowiak said. 'It's not a matter of changing it.'

Now more than 650 members strong, PUMP is bigger than ever.

'We have a niche,' she said. 'We're the only organization that is engaging our members in open dialogue and forums.'

As an example, PUMP members, after long-term discussion, advocated for the so-called stadium tax, the 1 percent Allegheny County sales tax. Szymkowiak, who was not director, says the group feels that it was the key to keeping the city growing.

'Building is vital to a world class city,' Szymkowiak said. 'In order from our city to be first class, we need major league sports teams such as the Pirates. History has shown cities that have lost sports teams have lost interest from young people.'

Some of the events that have been sponsored include lobbying on issues in Harrisburg, Allegheny County's home rule charter, Fifth and Forbes Revitalization and sponsoring a mayoral candidates' night. The group often hosts social happy hours to discuss regional issues.

'We travel to a lot of new places where people normally wouldn't go,' Szymkowiak said.

A recent contribution is M Squared, the incredibly successful open air Friday night parties in Market Square which combine music and entertainment, average 4,000 people per event. The idea came from members of PUMP.

Other events include On-The-Spot, PUMP's 1997 televised debate of the mayoral candidates and PUMP's Urban Living Tour, when more than 500 people visited seven loft projects in the Strip and cultural districts.

Although the organization is Pittsburgh based, PUMP encourages people from the suburbs such as the Valley to join and participate.

'People's opinions from the rural and suburban areas are just as important,'' Szymkowiak said. 'What makes them come out, for instance. Or, what could we do to make them come out?'

Szymkowiak points out that many Valley residents, like herself, work in Pittsburgh.

'It's our city,' Szymkowiak said. 'After all, when you go on a trip and someone asks where you are from, you usually say, 'Pittsburgh.''

Next month the organization will be hosting its '40-under-40' awards dinner for young adults.

'It's to honor those who exemplify involvement and better of our regional community,' Szymkowiak said. All of the winners will be younger than 40.

In January, PUMP will be initiating its Urban Magnet welcome wagon program in which members will invite new people to showcase the city.

Szymkowiak and her husband, Eric, have three children, Brooke, 7, Gunner, 3 and Mitchell, 1. She is expecting her fourth child in April.

'I have a lot of late nights with these type of functions,' Szymkowiak said. 'But my husband is great about it.'

Szymkowiak, a graduate of Slippery Rock University, and her husband are building a home in Buffalo Township.

'If a person feels Pittsburgh is their home, they aren't going to want to leave,' Szymkowiak said. 'This is the perfect place for people to work and connect.'

Leslie Suhr can be reached at lsuhr@tribweb.com

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