“I’m very proud of Pittsburgh. It is where I get my grit.”
Daren Ellerbee grew up in Aliquippa – just 30 miles northwest of the city along the Ohio River. Once a steel production goliath in its own right, the community for decades attracted job-seeking newcomers from around the country – including Daren’s grandparents, who migrated from South Carolina in the 1950s.
Much of her work ethic comes from her parents and grandparents. They were very serious about and dedicated to providing positive examples of what could be accomplished through hard work. “I recall being told that my grandfather, who was a union member and steel worker, never called off of work. There were days that hypertension sent him home, but he never called off, despite the hazardous working conditions.” The family also shares pride in their heritage and love for the close-knit community of friends and family. “I’ve considered moving to other places, but Pittsburgh is home. No place can replace home.”
Early on Daren developed a knack for storytelling, which she nurtured while studying communications at the University of Pittsburgh and Robert Morris University. The late Dr. Rex Crawley, then RMU’s assistant dean of communications and information systems, mentored and encouraged her. “Dr. Crawley’s legacy continues in my work. The seeds he planted long ago are flourishing today,” says Ellerbee.
After hopping from rental to rental around the city during her student years, Daren found a three-story town home in the North Side neighborhood Perry Hilltop. The affordable purchase price allowed her to take out a renovation loan in order to make the house her own.
“You don’t come across this level of affordability in other places. It’s just unheard of. I brag to my friends around the country all the time about it.”
Perry Hilltop is full of genuine, welcoming neighbors and kids playing soccer on the streets. The uptick in diverse faces and cultural flare picked her. “All we need is a bodega on the corner and this would be a block in New York.”
Instead of a bodega, Daren enjoys the Crazy Mocha on Federal Street, or grabbing a quick breakfast to go at the Commonplace Coffee Shop in the North Side’s historic, tree-lined Mexican War Streets – home to the Allegheny YMCA, where she works out. She also supports Arnold's Tea, a great spot to grab breakfast on her morning commute or to hold meetings and get some work done. Topping off a busy week, she enjoys spending time with friends – particularly catching live jazz at Savoy in the Strip District, attending church, running errands and – she’ll admit it -- napping.
Her best kept secret: free WiFi and catching a late night event drawing a diverse crowd at Young Bro’s Bar in Brighton Heights – former winner of the North Side’s annual Sandwich Week Competition. Also, right next door is BJ's Event Center where she enjoys catching a good DJ or a comedy show.
Daren’s love for people, community and connection extends beyond her personal life. She’s landed a unique role at Pitt as director of its Community Engagement Center in Homewood. Acting as a bridge between the university and the community, Daren identifies and encourages new collaboration, and strengthens existing partnerships. She appreciates being part of her alma mater’s commitment to “investing in Pittsburgh communities, and [working to make] a positive impact that can shift the trajectory of a family’s life for generations.”
Cultivating her family and hometown roots, Daren also is active with such organizations in Beaver County as its NAACP chapter and the Women’s Achievement Club. For newcomers getting acclimated -- or natives looking for deeper engagement -- she recommends joining affinity groups at work, college alumni chapters and other social and professional groups.
“Pittsburghers have a strong work ethic and genuinely care about making their communities better places. Like-minded people are welcome! I couldn’t imagine being from any place else.”