“We are working to build a more welcoming and inclusive Pittsburgh.”
As a passionate community advocate in various roles throughout the region, Betty Cruz seems to know everyone in Pittsburgh. As the deputy chief of special initiatives under Mayor Bill Peduto, she spearheaded the 2014 Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative, an effort to promote mutual understanding, respect and cooperation among U.S.-born Pittsburghers and immigrants.
In 2016, she struck out on her own to found Change Agency, a social enterprise that works to advance immigrant integration and community change efforts in Pittsburgh. “We hope to grow and ignite several civic initiatives, but our first major project is All for All – a county-wide effort that is taking the Immigrant Community Blueprint from plan to action.” That blueprint, published in September 2016, is a comprehensive, community-led plan to address the needs of immigrants and Latinos in the region, and to build a more welcoming and inclusive community where they can thrive.
Born and raised in Miami, Fla., but Cuban through and through, Betty began to recognize the challenges and the promise for newcomers to the Pittsburgh region more than a decade ago, while pursuing a history degree at Edinboro University when she spent a summer in Pittsburgh as part of the Public Policy and International Affairs Program hosted at Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College. She went on to earn a master’s degree in public and nonprofit administration at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. She worked in D.C. with KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that all kids get a childhood filled with play, but frequently commuted to Pittsburgh to meet with playground funding partners. “Every time I came back to Pittsburgh, it felt like coming home. My husband and I decided it was time to make that a reality.”
They enjoy the region’s unique topography while kayaking its rivers and bike ride on one of the many trails. Betty’s favorite outdoor spot is Frick Park, but the couple loves finding new regional parks to explore on the weekends. Their Highland Park neighborhood offers walkable access to its eponymous park and a growing mix of shops along Bryant Street. Betty also loves exploring such cultural assets as City of Asylum on the North Side and the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty. “They produce engaging productions, with people behind the scenes who are working hard to build a more inclusive, connected community that’s for everyone.”
Betty’s work within the public, private and nonprofit sectors helps to bring sometimes at-odds stakeholders together to take action toward common goals. “There is a lot of great community action in our region, but it can be siloed. My hope is that whether it be veterans or immigrants or workforce initiatives, we can find the intersections and work to elevate all of these populations.”
While there is increasing population diversity across the Pittsburgh region, she still sees a way to go to becoming a fully welcoming and inclusive community. But all the ingredients are here. “There’s a rawness that comes with the grit and history of Pittsburgh; people are down to earth and really care about their community and other people. If we can work to elevate everyone and do right by our immigrant communities and communities of color, it will enrich our city and the quality of life for everyone.”