‘The Role of Women in Transforming Communities’ Focus on: Adrienne Roberts

Ms. Adrienne Roberts

‘The Role of Women in Transforming Communities’

Focus on: Adrienne Roberts

By Sonja Reis

McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania – During a recent NeighborWorks Training Institute program, I participated in a class entitled “The Role of Women in Transforming Communities.” A combination of a history lesson and a how-to, the content of the one-day workshop got my wheels turning thinking about the local women I have the privilege to partner with as part of my work with McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (MRCDC).

There I learned that Pittsburgher Dorothy Mae Richardson founded NeighborWorks. The early origins of the nonprofit NeighborWorks America are traced to 1968 when Richardson started a campaign for better housing in her North Side neighborhood. That effort has grown over the years into a congressionally chartered nonprofit organization that supports community development in the United States and Puerto Rico.

My local shero?

During the class, we were asked to share the name of a personal “shero.” My mind flitted to Marlene Banks and the Welcome to the Table project, Adrienne Roberts who cares so much about the youth and their families, Sandy Saban’s volunteer work with many local organizations including the McKees Rocks Historical Society and Denise Zellous’ Zellous Hope Project. These four leaders have a few things in common; they are all doers and they prefer to work behind the scenes to make things happen.

Can their special contributions to Sto-Rox community building and social justice be compared to that of Harriet Tubman escaping slavery and becoming a leading abolitionist? Yes. Every step in the right direction matters no matter who is taking it.

For this story, we will focus on MRCDC Board President Adrienne Roberts. I wanted an excuse to learn more about the teen mom who “out of necessity” was placed here in the Allegheny County Housing Authority’s former McKees Rocks Terrace neighborhood. 

“Thirty years later and I’m still here. [McKees Rocks] is home,” says Roberts, 53, who grew up in Homewood where she graduated from Westinghouse High School. 

Despite odds against her, the mother of two has transformed her life and as a community leader works to transform her adopted hometown.

MRCDC Board President Adrienne Roberts during a guest bartender event.

“Ms. Adrienne” completed both high school and college, as have her children. She left the Terrace (later named Meyers Ridge) behind, purchased a home in Stowe Township and is now second in command at the nonprofit Focus on Renewal. The organization can trace its beginnings to 1969 and later “born to unite the community and provide an umbrella organization for much-needed social services…from early childhood education to nutrition, support groups and mental health to arts programs” for all ages.

Roberts has been with the nonprofit for much of her career. She started there soon after earning a management degree from Point Park College (before it decided university was a much more prestigious title) and a brief stint at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. She left for a few years to serve as a care manager at Gwen’s Girls before returning to FOR to work with the McKees Rocks Family Center and its Positive Parenting program. 

As FOR’s deputy director, Roberts joins Dr. Diona Jones, named the organization’s first Black executive director in November 2023. 

“I want to see things progress for the better. I try to do that when and where I can.“ I don’t want to be front and center, I’m there in the back working to make my community better.”

– Ms. Adrienne Roberts

Roberts' Shero?

The late Frances Carter was Roberts’ pick. In the year 2000, the feisty McKees Rocks Terrace resident council president refused to be moved from her home in the Terrace during HUD’s Hope VI transformation into what is now known as Meyers Ridge. She and others, including Roberts, moved buildings within the Allegheny County Housing Authority neighborhood while demolition and construction on a new public-private housing partnership occurred.

Carter was wary of promises made by both federal and local housing officials. She told reporters during the project groundbreaking, that she would hold housing officials to all the pledges made that day. She did indeed hold their feet to the fire. 

Roberts is just one of many who hold up the memories of “Ms. Fran” as an example of how strong women can be positive changemakers in their communities.

Board Chair(s)

At Carter’s encouragement, a young Roberts became a member of the Terrace Resident Council.

“I don’t think she knows how much she taught me just by my watching,” says Roberts. “She was a force to be reckoned with for sure. She had no problem speaking her mind.” 

Currently, Roberts serves on several boards including McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation, Sto-Rox Neighborhood Health Council and the Sto-Rox School District where she proudly notes “her children are a product of.”

Her daughter Krystal Roberts graduated from Slippery Rock University and her son Alex (Alexander) Roberts from Penn State University. The two Sto-Rox grads live locally to mom and are focused on their careers. 

A congregant of the Second Baptist Church of McKees Rocks, Roberts advocates for the Sto-Rox community’s children and their families. She volunteers with groups like the Welcome to the Table project, Little Vikings youth football, Sto-Rox Viking High School football, and even as a chaperone for school events.

So if you see Roberts or any of your local sheroes on the street, at the store, during a community event or even at a sports field, pull them aside and thank them for all they do. Sometimes it’s nice to be recognized.

“Don’t wish for it. Work for it.”

– Unknown

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