It’s easy to generalize about Pittsburgh families — what they need, their daily challenges and the resources that would best serve them. But the region is home to a diverse range of families, with a vast array of experiences and needs.
Local journalists have a responsibility to represent families from all walks of life through their coverage. Melissa Rayworth, the executive editor of Kidsburgh, makes this a priority in her work focused on education, families and communities in Pittsburgh.
We discussed a lot in our Behind the Byline interview, including her passion for preserving memories through storytelling and her exciting time living in China. Read on for the full interview:
Where are you from?
I grew up on Long Island, sort of right at the edge of the Queens border, in a town called Garden City.
When my husband Ted and I first got married, we went to Beijing for three years. When we got to Beijing, I mostly did a lot of television. I got this incredibly fun job with an English teaching TV series, called Modern English. I was on the show, but I was also editing the English textbook and writing some of the episodes — it was a lot of fun.
We spent summer 2001 to summer 2004 in Beijing for Ted’s work with the Associated Press, and then moved back to New York for a few years. In 2007, Ted’s mom and dad were in their eighties, and they needed some help, so we decided to come here. New York is still home, and we have a tiny apartment there, but our kids have grown up here. Even while we spent 2014 through 2017 living in Bangkok, we kept our home in Hampton and stayed very connected to Pittsburgh.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Cornell. I was a communications major, but I took as many theatre classes as I could while I was there.
What got you into writing and editing?
I’ve always loved storytelling. I do a lot of work for Remake Learning and The Grable Foundation, but I also have clients that I do ghostwriting and social media for. Whether it be producing a play, being in a play, or writing news stories or essays, I just love storytelling.
You’re currently the executive editor at Kidsburgh. How long have you been there, and what is the most rewarding part of your job?
I just took over on September 1, 2021. I’ve been working with some of the folks who are involved with Kidsburgh for several years now, and even before that I’d been covering their work. I spent two years running NEXTpittsburgh, which is a media outlet that really prioritizes the whole community and what families in Pittsburgh really need. So during those years I wrote and edited a lot of stories related to Remake Learning and some of the work that The Grable Foundation was funding. I discovered so many incredible people in Pittsburgh who are trying to make life better for one another.
As 2020 was approaching, I was ready to go back to writing full time and not do as much managing. When the pandemic first started, I was writing articles about how challenging it was for kids and families in so many communities, and I was so aware of how fortunate my family is – I’m really grateful that my kids have always gone to good schools and they had an easier transition into remote learning than kids in many communities. It just seemed like the right time to dig into writing more about what’s going on with Pittsburgh families in all communities, and what they need. I had already been focusing on education and Pittsburgh families in my freelancing work, so when I started at Kidsburgh, it was just such a natural fit.
What has your time at Kidsburgh so far taught you about your own identity as a parent and a member of the communities you’re a part of in Pittsburgh?
I’ve recently realized that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to create content that can help people, but I’m not as involved in being out there and helping people directly as I’d like to be, beyond doing things for my kids’ schools. I realized that I’ve had the 412 Food Rescue Hero app in my phone for a while and I hadn’t done any rescues until last fall. It was a conversation with Leah Lizarondo that pointed me back to it, and since then Ted and I have begun doing food rescues. Writing about all these volunteer opportunities for families, it’s made me say to myself, you’re no longer doing a whole lot of stuff with your kids’ schools because your kids are big — so, what else can you do?
Can you tell me a bit about your storytelling service, Breadcrumbs? Specifically, the services you offer clients and any projects you’re willing to share?
This started as something Ted and I did as a gift for friends. At one point, we had a friend who was going through some difficult medical things. He worked at a university, and we ended up creating a datebook for him for the coming school year. We not only filled the datebook with his family’s birthdays and anniversaries, and different dates coming up for the university’s sports, but we peppered in pages with quotes from all different friends of his, and photos encouraging him as he went through his treatment.
Ted and I have talked a lot about the fact that it’s wonderful we have social media and digital ways of staying in touch, but everything kind of floats by like a river — really fast, and then it’s gone. So, we’re both really interested in the idea of physical, tangible things. We love the idea of merging journalism and real research with family stories. Taking care of his parents as they eventually struggled with dementia, while working as journalists, really brought all this together for us. So we’re slowly building this business where we create books and other keepsakes for individuals and families.
One of my favorite pieces of this work is something we call a “narrative reset.” A lot of people, especially women, don’t realize how much they’ve already accomplished and how impressive they really are. Years ago when I was managing a magazine for military spouses, I met so many amazing women who were doing incredible things, but felt they hadn’t accomplished much because they hadn’t had conventional careers. When I would write a magazine story about them, they would contact me and say they saw themselves in whole new way because I’d reported on who they were and told their story in a way that highlighted their very real strengths. I realized that so many people need that. Having a journalist interview you and those close to you about your life, and then reading and really owning the story of who you are today can be lifechanging.
What do you like to do outside of work?
If we weren’t in a pandemic, my first answer would be travel. I love travel and have always tried to make it part of my work. I build industrial furniture, and one of my hobbies is taking reclaimed ceramic tiles and covering them with vintage comic book pages to sell at craft fairs. I also love spending time with my husband and kids because we’re all busy enough that getting time together isn’t easy, especially now that our boys are 15 and 18. These years feel like they’re going so fast.
– Maggie Medoff, WordWrite