In the spring of 2007, Brian Wolovich and his roommate at the time found themselves in one of those storied moments. They were working their way through a neighborhood cleanup in downtown Millvale and wound up in front of a beautiful, old—but boarded up—building.
“Man, we should buy this building,” Wolovich said. His roommate wanted to know what they would do with it. “How about a library?”
“I’m in if you’re in.”
As simple as that, Wolovich was in. “Okay, let’s do it,” he said.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite as simple as that, but the conversation kept creeping up between the pair. A little bit of research found a 1995 report that, in part, summarized the town’s self-identified needs: a waterfront park, a senior high-rise, and a library. A little over a decade later, the library was the only thing missing from the wish-turned-reality list.
At the end of that summer, flooding once again damaged the town, which had hardly had a chance to recover after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. As the town cleaned up and tried to get its energy back, Wolovich had a big question: “Can’t people come together that’s a proactive thing instead of a reactive thing?” He thought about the library idea. “People will rally behind this, people will come together.”
He was right. Because Wolovich knows Millvale. He was baptized there as a kid (though he was raised elsewhere), and his family has always hovered around the Etna/Millvale, Lawrenceville/Polish Hill grouping of communities. In 2003, Wolovich was looking to move to Millvale and by chance was able to purchase his great aunt and uncle’s vacant house.
The years passed; Wolovich renovated his late aunt and uncle’s house, the library after the building’s purchase in 2010, and—in the process—renovated his life. These days, he’s teaching sixth grade at Quaker Valley Middle School and is a Millvale Borough Council member in addition to being President of the Millvale Community Library. He’s married to Mandy, with whom he has a two-year-old son Elijah (and another baby on the way).
For so long he had been in volunteer mode with Millvale’s renovations, and now he’s reaping the benefits as a participant of everything the town has to offer, especially for growing families. “There are organizations and people who really care and want to do something positive for kids and families—and are doing things,” says Wolovich. That’s the beginning. “Another part of the stories is about access and equity. There are so many things happening that are geared toward kids and families of any income or background.” The changing community, he says, built on an “open and accessible programming platform.”
Equity is an important factor for both residents new and old in Millvale. In the last five years or so, Wolovich has noticed an increase in renters to the area—about half of the population rents—from areas such as Lawrenceville, where people are being priced-out by rapid development. There are also people who are just looking for something different. “They want to be there because it’s affordable, there’s cool stuff going on it’s close to everything,” says Wolovich. As can be the hazard of change, though, Wolovich hopes that “the people who live here now can stay here and can enjoy it, people who really endured the challenges.”
Interest in Millvale is a self-fulfilling prophecy in some ways. As younger people have moved in, more individuals, families, and businesses have started looking for space in the small town. The more people that move in, the more cool things happen. And then more people and businesses want to join in the fun.
For instance, over thirty families and individuals are involved in the community garden and orchard. This year marks the first for the community greenhouse, which Wolovich’s wife is managing. They’re also learning more about what the town wants in deeper and more current ways than that long ago report that helped spur Wolovich’s interest in building a library. Many of these needs center around early-learning opportunities, childhood safety—such as the ability to walk and bike throughout the community—and other youth-serving efforts.
Related—such that both children and sustainability are about the future—Millvale has been working with EvolveEA to turn the town into an Ecodistrict, which, according to Wolovich, would mean “having a resilient community based around food, water, and energy issues.”
Luckily for Millvale, many of these needs are already being touched upon by local organizations. The Kidsburgh process has, however, brought them together and to each other’s attention. “As small as this town is,” Wolovich says, “I’m still meeting people for the first time who are working on overlapping causes.”
In some ways, Wolovich is, of course, the same guy he was seven years ago. These days, you’ll find him toiling around the community garden, cleaning up and working through ideas, only this time with Mandy by his side as Elijah runs around the open space. This is where Wolovich is happy. “This is a place I can live and call home.”