When discussing his charitable outreach, Light in my City, Erik Wiesemann likes to present a visual.
“You think of a lighthouse. A lighthouse in the darkness provides a beacon of hope to the ships out there, and safety. It gives them a direction,” he said. “It’s the same thing with the homeless.”
And so the teacher at Baker Elementary School in Upper St. Clair has made it his mission to present lanterns to people who can use more illumination in their lives.
“I started by just passing out a few, and it was received so well that we moved forward and purchased about a hundred of them, of which we’ve given out 73 so far,” Wiesemann said.
The lanterns he distributes are solar-powered and also can be charged by cranking – “batteries are pretty hard to come by out there” – plus they are equipped with AM, FM and weather bands, and have the capability of charging the prepaid cellphones some people are able to obtain.
“A lot of them have caseworkers, whether they’re helping them trying to find housing or if it’s medical concerns,” Wiesemann said.
His idea for Light in my City originated with the All Wound Up Yo-Yo Club he conducts for Baker fourth-graders, which includes a strong philanthropy component. One of last year’s beneficiaries of the club’s fundraising was Blankets Over Pittsburgh, run by Dormont resident Jack “Coach” Brumbaugh to help provide for the homeless.
“What he does is amazing. He goes out into all the hard-to-reach areas – under bridges, over railroad tracks – and takes essentials: toilet paper, clothing, blankets, tents,” Wiesemann said. “We donated some money to him, and he was able to do quite a bit with that. He was very thankful and offered, if I was ever interested, to go out with him and see where the money was going.”
He accepted the offer, and the initial venture went so well he decided to continue accompanying Brumbaugh. In talking with the people they met, Wiesemann would ask how they managed at night.
“Light was a need that continued to come up,” he said. “They said there are times when they can’t really even see what they’re eating. They don’t feel as safe.”
And the lanterns also assist in dealing with wildlife concerns.
“There are rats,” Wiesemann said. “There are raccoons that will try to get into tents. And the light really does help keep that element away.”
In addition to his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, Wiesemann also earned a master’s in religion with a focus on pastoral ministries
“All of it is predicated upon my Christian faith,” he said about his spirit of giving, “whether that’s helping the students to make new friends at school through the yo-yo club or if it’s trying to help those who are really overlooked.”
When he goes on rounds to distribute lanterns, he’ll ask people if they’re interested, and if so, he demonstrates how the device works. Then he tends to talk to the recipients and learn their stories.
“Not all of them are struggling with some horrible affliction,” he said. “They’ve lost jobs. They haven’t been able to afford mortgages.”
Whatever the case, Wiesemann suggested keeping one thing in mind.
“Everybody’s Pittsburgh hero Mister Rogers, his thing was ‘won’t you be my neighbor.’ Well, they’re our neighbors.”
For more information, visit www.lightinmycity.org.