Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2005 | People

City of Angels: Saleem Ghubril

By Kathryn Howe

From their offices inside a vacant school building in the city’s northside neighborhood, staffers at the Pittsburgh Project can see the intersection where 28 murders occurred between 1995 and 1997. The Reverend Saleem Ghubril has seen far too many young people buried—and he’s working to prevent such senseless losses.

He founded the Pittsburgh Project, a non-denominational community development organization that helps point vulnerable children away from the drugs and violence of their pasts and toward brighter futures.

Ghubril and his permanent staff of 20 teach the value of service leadership through a home repair ministry that improves the living conditions of the elderly, disabled, and poor. Through the Project’s youth enrichment programs, children receive academic tutoring, job skills training, and opportunities to build relationships with neighbors.

“It’s always been my conviction that the most powerful educational tool for young people is service,” says Ghubril, 84BA. “They’re forced to face the realities of people’s lives.”

The organization began as a summer service initiative, but now provides a constant presence in the neighborhood. Today, some 2,500 youngsters annually volunteer 42,000 hours to home construction projects for the city’s most vulnerable people. In addition, the Project offers mentoring on a year-round basis and dispatches outreach volunteers with street-level experience who can diffuse petty disputes and turf battles that could lead to unnecessary, devastating violence.

“My faith compels me to be involved in the lives of hurting and broken people,” says Ghubril. “All of us are broken, messy. What I do is best described in that famous quote about evangelism: I’m just a hungry person telling another hungry person where to find bread.”