Yes, I’m a Bit Nostalgic

It’s hard to believe, but my time at GTECH is coming to an end. In some ways it’s been a really long 18+ months; in other ways it’s been very short. It seems like yesterday I was at Heinz College orientation in August 2015, hearing about GTECH’s origins as a systems synthesis capstone project. I remember being intrigued—something I could do in school might be relevant to real life? I’d have to investigate this.

So, after starting my public policy master’s program, I applied for the chance to earn my federal community service work-study funds by working at GTECH. The paperwork took a while, but I started as a Content Marketing and Community Building (essentially communications) intern just before Halloween 2015. I didn’t know what to expect, but I can say that I never would have imagined at that time all of the opportunities I would be afforded here.

Here, in no particular order, are my top memories from my time at GTECH, along with some of the important, and humbling, lessons I’ve learned.


Driving Around the County

I’ve spent most of my time at GTECH working with the Green Playces team. You might be wondering how I went from doing communications to Green Playces. One thing I’ve learned in the few jobs I’ve had is that it’s good to get your feet wet in a lot of areas in an organization in order to find your niche. How did I start this process at GTECH? Oh, I volunteered (or got volunteered—can’t remember) to drive around Allegheny County delivering radon detectors to thirty-three Healthy Homes Incentive Program participants, just before Christmas 2015. This may not sound like it would take all that long, but their dispersal around the county meant I drove 117+ miles in two days to hit them all.

All the radon detectors you could ever want

This experience reinforced for me the lesson that work isn’t always going to be the most glamorous, but if you’re willing to do some less desirable tasks, people will be willing to trust you with more important things. And you can always get something out of any experience. Those two days were the beginning of my learning about the various neighborhoods and communities in and around Pittsburgh, and I can now complete the 90-neighborhood “Click That ‘Hood” quiz for Pittsburgh in 28% less time than it takes me to do the same length puzzle for my hometown of Chicago. (The quizzes are fun; you should check them out.)

Plus Ian bought me lunch for doing all that driving, so win-win-win.



As part of my master’s program I was required to do a summer internship, and GTECH offered me a position that would be half communications and half Green Playces. So for the summer of 2016 I spent fourteen weeks communicating and Green Playce-ing.

I’m just going to say it—GTECH is a weird place to work during the winter. It’s the closest I’ve come to understanding what a bear feels like when it hibernates. So much of our work is based outside, working on vacant land projects. So while the soil is hard and the wind is bitingly cold, we sit in the office dreaming about the summer. But while we dream, we plan and prepare for the coming year’s projects. My first six months at GTECH were just hearing all about how amazing it was to work with communities to implement projects without ever getting to do it myself.

High-definition photo of me after a workday in the Hilltop, July 2016

Over the summer, however, I got to be a part of 19 workdays. It wasn’t all about getting the best tan of my life (which isn’t saying much, but let me have this) or playing outside. I also felt like a part of a community in a way that I never had before. There’s something about getting your hands dirty (or your whole face—my nickname was Pigpen) with motivated, passionate volunteers and community members, building parklets, outdoor classrooms, and play spaces, that makes you feel full. That’s the best way I know how to describe it. While many of my fellow classmates were sitting behind computers all summer, I got to spend some of my time outside, interacting with and learning from amazing people while beautifying spaces.

It would take too long to list all of the things I learned from being a part of so many workdays, but suffice it to say that I will continue to join these workdays as a volunteer as long as I’m in Pittsburgh.


Friendship Circle and Possibilities

Another thing I loved about working at GTECH is that you never know what you’re going to be doing from day to day. As part of our work on the Green Playces business plan last summer, I did some initial research on building similar spaces for children with special needs. I have two younger siblings with special needs, so this idea was close to my heart. Because I had expressed interest in this though, I was able to be a part of designing a gardening club program at Friendship Circle. I’m not a gardening expert, but being able to introduce some small gardening techniques and generate some interest in greenery for and among kids with special needs brought me great joy.

Learning about parts of a plant at Friendship Circle

Later in the summer I presented a more thorough idea for a Green Playce for special needs kids to the full GTECH staff, and for the past school year I have been working on developing a plan for such a project, termed Possibilities, by doing some data analysis, assessing needs, and beginning to build partnerships; trying to generate some excitement around the idea.

There was an oft-repeated phrase last year: “when they go low, we go high.” I think that in some ways the phrase was overused and lost some of its emotional weight, but I still believe it is the best way to live one’s life. When, as a candidate, the president mocked a disabled reporter, I learned that I had, to that point, been misusing another phrase: “it made my blood boil.” Thinking about it still makes my blood boil. I consider myself fortunate beyond measure to have such loving, thoughtful, and joyful siblings. There are challenges, but they make the world a far more beautiful place for me, and the more time you spend with children of all abilities, the more you come to realize how important it is that we do everything we can to help these children live their lives to the fullest.

That’s what working on Possibilities was for me. I don’t think any other organization would have let me decide I was passionate about something and then encourage me to pursue it as far as I could. I am and will always be grateful to Ian, Evaine, Andrew, and everyone else who provided me with such incredible and reliable institutional and personal support for this project. I hope that the foundation I tried to build for the Possibilities will someday lead to more happiness and joy for kids with special needs, their families, friends, teachers, and community members.



As I look around the office on my last day, I realize just how many people have been a part of my time here. There are many new faces alongside many familiar ones. At ten years, GTECH is comprised of some of the smartest and most passionate individuals I’ve ever worked with. But they don’t just work hard and challenge me to do the same. They are also a lot of fun to spend time with day in and day out. Originally for this blog I was going to call each person out, but that might be a little much.

Instead I’d like to thank current and former GTECHers for trusting me, for telling it like it is, for challenging me to speak up and believe in myself and my ideas, for treating me like an equal, for opening my eyes to the uniqueness and beauty of each Pittsburgh neighborhood, and for being good friends even outside the office. I will miss you for staff meetings, workdays, potlucks, and working at the cool kids’ table. I’ll miss laughing and nerding out and learning and sharing our weird and wonderful personalities. But I’m sorry, I’m going to miss Wickett the most.


GTECH has given me so much and there’s no way I can repay it all. But the mission and passion will always be in my heart.


One thought on “Yes, I’m a Bit Nostalgic

  1. You are an inspiring dude Joe. Thank you for all of your hard work, good spirits and true GTECH grittiness. Best of luck and don’t be a stranger

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