Proud to Be From Pittsburgh

Proud to be from Pittsburgh: First Waves

Pittsburgh’s three rivers are the crown jewel of the city, and a program is teaching young people to care for the health of the waterways to ensure they continue to run clean.

Cleaning isn’t easy when garbage is underwater, but kids from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program have the equipment to get the job done. Paddleboards SurfSup Adventures partners with nonprofits to use paddleboarding to mentor underserved youths.  After they learn to use the equipment, the kids use their skills to help the environment in a program called First Waves.

“We do basically a conservation program with them so they realize ways to help the waterway and learn about pollution threats that exist throughout Pittsburgh and Allegheny County,” said Ian Smith, the program’s founder.

First Waves worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters to clean the river just outside the Carnegie Science Center. Though the water looks beautiful from the surface, the trash hides beneath. It’s hard work, but the children embrace it.

“I saw our kids, who have never done anything like it, just embrace the challenge, become very resilient and just grow right before my eyes,” said Cheryl, of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“I use the rivers and streams a lot in Pennsylvania, more than most people, and so it really means a lot to see other people taking care of them as well,” said 16-year-old Mike.

For some, it’s their first chance to see what lies beneath the surface of the water.

“We were just talking earlier about how dirty it was; there was a water jug in there. It was really nasty, and I wouldn’t want to swim in that,” said Tieyonnie German, a 14-year-old.

For the program’s founder, it’s about having fun while making a huge difference.

“I want the kids to really enjoy being on the water. Understand that they can do this for the rest of their lives and really have a lot of fun. And if they’re having fun, they’re going to care about the rivers,” said Smith.

If you’d like to learn more about First Waves, check out