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Serving Youth & Families Since 1880
Serving Youth & Families Since 1880

Three Rivers Youth History

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A Proud Legacy

Three Rivers Youth traces its origins to 1880 when Reverend J.M. Fulton a local minister was unable to find an orphanage that would provide care and shelter for little Nellie, a 4-year old African American girl he found wandering the streets of Pittsburgh’s North Side. Established by the efforts of activist Julia Blair and the Women’s Christian Association, the Home for Colored Children became an unprecedented safe haven for Nellie and children like her who were barred from all-white orphanages. The organization later became the Termon Avenue Home for Children (see left). Three Rivers Youth is actually the result of a merger between the Home for Children and another predecessor child welfare service agency. The Girls Service Club, founded in 1924 and incorporated in 1932 as a home for “wayward” girls, merged with the Termon Avenue Home for Children to become Three Rivers Youth in 1970.

A Video History

Two important studies on the history of Three Rivers Youth, made possible by use of our archives are:

• From Colored Orphans to Youth Development: The 125-Year History of Three Rivers Youth 1880-2005, © 2006 University of Pittsburgh Press. A Publication of the University of Pittsburgh Office of Public Affairs; a comprehensive introduction to the history of Three Rivers Youth; illustrated by photographs and artifacts from Three Rivers Youth’s archives.

• Child Care in Black and White: Working Parents and the History of Orphanages, Jessie B. Ramey © 2012 University of Illinois Press. A study of the development of institutional childcare from 1878 to 1929 based on a comparison of two “sister” orphanages in Pittsburgh: the Home for Colored Children and the all-white United Presbyterian Orphans Home.


Three Rivers Youth proudly advances a comprehensive commitment to aid vulnerable youth, boasting a distinguished record of leadership with achievements acknowledged at local, state, and national levels. Three Rivers Youth boasts client success rates that exceed national and regional benchmarks with school attendance at 97%, truancy abatement at 71%, and a 100% high school graduation rate that has held for the past 8 years. Over 70% of the children in care eventually return to their family of origin or a less restricted setting.

The organization’s longevity is a fitting tribute to the valiant efforts and tenacity of several generations of devoted patrons, directors, and staff, most of them women. Excellence in management and service delivery is further evidenced by an extensive portfolio of contracts with city, county, state, and federal agencies. We are one of only 12 agencies in Allegheny County accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Services to Children and Families (COA), operating as a COA-accredited agency for over 20 years and for more than 50 years as a Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare-licensed organization. For half a century, we have distinguished ourselves as a United Way high-performing partner agency exemplifying the United Way’s commitment to financial integrity and operational accountability.

In 2005, celebrating its 125th anniversary, Three Rivers Youth launched an annual signature fundraising event, the Nellie Leadership Awards, recognizing noteworthy institutional and individual contributions to community engagement, education, advocacy and healthcare on behalf of vulnerable at-risk youth in the Greater Pittsburgh region. A scholarship fund for at-risk youth was established with support from Duquesne Light. From Colored Orphans to Youth Development, a multimedia exhibition was curated and presented by the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Public Affairs. Later, Three Rivers Youth’s archive of papers, photographs and artifacts was donated to the Heinz History Center where it is partially catalogued and available for scholarly research.

More recently, on September 25, 2013, Three Rivers Youth was among eight child welfare organizations honored by Allegheny County in a “Celebration of Milestones,” commemorating the 50th anniversary of the placement of responsibility for child protection under the auspices of the county executive, separate from the county’s juvenile court system, where jurisdiction has fallen prior, and the 75th anniversary of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work offering a child welfare degree specialization. The event was also a key component of an opening anniversary week launching a yearlong celebration commemorating the 225th anniversary of Allegheny County and the 125th anniversary of the Courthouse.

Peggy Brower Harris, MPA the President and CEO of Three Rivers Youth since 2000, recently received the 2012 Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and the 2013 Allerton Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, among the many accolades she has received over her distinguished career spanning three decades.