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CLP Spotlights: Demi Kolke from Kenny’s

Welcome to #CLPSpotlights, our monthly series highlighting individuals and organizations that make a difference in their community. This month, we interviewed Demi Kolke from Kenny’s, a community and cultural celebration space in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood. Their outdoor event space was once an overgrown vacant lot, and is now a vibrant place to cultivate community, enjoy positive and inclusive neighborhood experiences, and have fun.

Q. How has your work evolved during the pandemic to meet the community’s needs?  

A. Even though our space is outdoors, we did completely shut down in-person activities and events for our 2020 season. Instead, we transferred our community yoga classes into an online, virtual platform. Additionally, prior to the pandemic, we hadn’t done much work around food insecurity, but we did partner with the Homewood Farmers Market, Health DepartmentThe Food TrustEast End Food Co-Op, and Giant Eagle to do grocery store gift card giveaways along with Food Bucks distributions. 

Q. What is your favorite part of what you do?  

A. The entire premise of Kenny’s is to essentially have fun, creating and cultivating a celebration space by bringing in new experiences to our neighborhood. It doesn’t really get better than that! 

Q. How did you come to work for your organization? 

A. I established Kenny’s five years ago. At the time, I was working for Operation Better Block (and had been for some time). One of our programs focused on grassroots outreach and proactive homeowner stabilization. Through this, I developed many great relationships and one unlikely friendship with Mr. Kenneth Stubbs. 

Several years later, Mr. Stubbs was murdered and that really shook me in a profound way. After some time, I reached out to his family after a saw a family home go up for sale.  I inquired about a vacant lot that he owned and asked to purchase from them. Once this was completed, I convinced my two close friends who also lived and worked in Homewood, to throw our summer birthday party at the (very rough looking) vacant lot. They agreed! And it’s history from there. 

Q. What do you wish the public knew about your organization? 

A. Kenny’s exists to bring life to a once lifeless space.  We serve to honor Mr. Stubbs and his family who have always been active in the neighborhood. Through this, our goal is not to recreate anything but instead, give space to those who have something - art, wellness classes, music – that they want to share with a community. Additionally, Kenny’s is also open for private rentals such as family reunions, baby showers, graduation parties, etc! 

Q. Tell us your favorite story about the library! 

A. WE LOVE THE LIBRARY!  I think my favorite story is once the library reopened for in-person browsing, I was able to bring my then 2-year-old daughter. Seeing everyone who worked there just completely light up and Journey responding the same made my heart so happy. They’ve been a part of her life since she was in the womb! She had so much fun and was just in disbelief that she could actually pick out the books herself again instead of me requesting them online. It was such a great moment and a terrific reminder of the value the Homewood Library and each of its staff have to us and our neighborhood. 

Q. What role does CLP have in helping your organization? 

  A. If you want someone to know about something, hang a flyer in the library (with permission)! There are places in Homewood that draw people, but the Library draws everyone. The Library is a great outreach partner! 

Q. Who’s your favorite author or artist at the moment?   

A. I recently read His Only Wife which is Peace Adzo Medie’s debut novel.  I am eagerly awaiting her next novel! 

Q. If you could change one thing about Pittsburgh, what would it be?  

A. The quality of life that Black and Brown people experience due to systemic barriers and lack of investment. In Pittsburgh, unemployment, infant mortality, and school police referral rates are all subsequently higher for Black people than white counterparts. Many Black and Brown people consequently end up moving from Pittsburgh.   

Q. What was an especially fulfilling moment for you in your work? 

A. After our very first event, the informal birthday party we threw, so many long-time residents came up to me and said THIS! This is what we’ve missed, this genuine openness, neighborly gathering, and just being able to have fun. That is when I truly got the idea to shape Kenny’s as we see it today. 

Q. What is a favorite local business or organization of yours? 

A. Salik’s Hardware. I walk down about once per week, totally clueless about what I need, and Mr. Salik always helps me and gets me on the right path! 

Thanks for reading! And thanks again to Demi Kolke from Kenny’s. Check back next month for a new Community Spotlight!

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