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Diane Hobson

CUBM is honored that Diane Hobson is one of our own, one of our earliest graduates from the early 1990s. She has gone on to garner other educational distinctions, but more than that, she has made her impact felt both through her service to the church and in the nonprofit world that serves the youth of our community. As with all the Urban Heroes, Diane’s own pain was part of what developed her into the community leader she is today.

JS: Diane Hobson, welcome to the Urban Heroes program.

DH: Thank you.

JS: It’s great to have you. Let’s start out by telling our listeners a little bit about who you and what you’re doing right now in your life.

DH: I presently pastor at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. And I am also a program director for the Mon Valley Juvenile After School Program. It’s housed in Mon Valley and it serves Charleroi, Donora, Monongahela, California; those areas of the mid Mon Valley.

JS: And how long have you been a pastor?

DH: I’m in my fifth year.

JS: And is this something you always knew you were going to do? Or was this something late in your life?

DH: I’ve known since I was a little girl that I was going to do something in the church.

JS: Just didn’t know you were going to pastor?

DH: No, because I grew up in a denomination where women didn’t pastor.

JS: Right, right. Talk to us about your upbringing, your family. You knew at an early age you were going to do something in the church. Tell us about that and how that awareness came about.

DH: As a young girl, I always wanted to be in church. I went to church when my parents didn’t go to church. One day I told my mother that I thought we were in the wrong denomination, because I wanted to serve people, and the only people that I knew that did that were nuns. And so I thought that maybe we were supposed to be in the Catholic faith so that I could be a nun. And of course, my mother didn’t change. So I always gear towards service and service-oriented things. I became a Girl Scout so that I did a lot of community volunteer things through the Girl Scouts. And as a kid, I always wanted to help hurting people.

JS: What did your parents say to all that? Were they encouraging?

DH: My parents didn’t know what to make of me! Mainly because there was no place in our church, in our denomination, for what I was looking to do. But since I wasn’t really quite sure what that was. I was involved in the youth choir, the junior ushers, the junior nurses, the junior everything. But that desire was always there. It wasn’t until much later that I got involved in doing more teaching. I think I was 19 when I had my first teaching assignment in Vacation Bible School, and that was teaching the junior class.

JS: What denomination were you raised in?

DH: I was raised in the Baptist Church.

JS: Yeah, we have lots of Baptists as Urban Heroes. So you stayed very involved in the church. And so after high school, what path did you take?

DH: As a teenager, believe it or not, with all that, the turn, I’m going to call that, I ended up still looking for something to satisfy that. But it didn’t happen. I ended up in the wrong crowd at the wrong time. I ended up as a teenage mom, struggling still to find myself. So, I ended up dropping out of school and taking my GED to raise my baby. And then trying to connect all the dots.

JS: So what kind of jobs did you do? What were you doing to make money?

DH: First job was at McDonald’s! Then I worked at Kaufman’s in the credit department. I actually thought at that point in my life that I wanted to be a CPA. So I started taking classes. I went to Duff’s Business Institute, which isn’t even there anymore. I went to Duff’s, thinking I wanted to do that. Ended up not doing that, of course. I still struggled in those early 20 years just trying to find a place for myself.

So, raising my two kids at the time, and just trying to make ends meet. But it was in that period of struggle that I began to identify some things. That how young women who didn’t make a connect, got stuck in a cycle. My sister had three kids out of wedlock and lived in the projects. Her oldest daughter, when she became a teenager, she had a baby, and got an apartment and lived down the street.

I began to see a cycle with young women, and how they were getting stuck; dropping out of high school and raising babies in the projects, with no outlet, and no one to say there’s a way out. And, I think that for me, and all this really does tie to ministry, I had a talk with my niece, much later. I asked her what she was going to do with her life. And she said, well, as she cracked her gum, “Imma find me a man to take care of me!”

And it was at that point I was really saying to her, “Sweetie, there’s a way out. You can get out of this. You can make something of yourself. You can get out.” And as I began to pray for my niece, God began to show me that a part of ministry was helping these young women come out of that cycle. I had been stuck there, and I struggled the hard way to go back to the church, going back to school, and I really felt like I was trailblazing for some other kids, so they wouldn’t have to go through the struggles that I did. And I struggled, in those early years to raise my kids, make ends meet, find a job, get an education. I struggled there.

JS: Tell us about your children.

DH: My children now are all grown, thank God. My oldest son, he actually is a supervisor in the department of aging; he likes to work with the seniors. My daughter is married and has a couple of kids of her own. She actually works with me in my program. And my youngest son, he’s a computer programmer. He just got married. He and his wife just had a baby. I’m very grateful that God graced me to raise tree children who love God and are healthy.

JS: Now, I know your daughter, right?

DH: Yes, you do. She’s going to school at CUBM now.

JS: Now how did CUBM fit into your plans?

DH: CUBM for me was a Godsend. Even though I had started at Duff’s, I quit because I was pregnant with my second child, my daughter. So I wasn’t able to go and finish school. And then after she became school aged, I wanted to go back and finish my education, but I needed to apply to a college, and I had no credit. I didn’t have enough credits to apply, having at that time, gone back to the church, teaching in the Sunday school.

I actually had gone to a four-year Bible school, Harty Bible School. Had finished that, and at that point, was trying to tie two things together, a Christian education and a college education, when I heard about CUBM. And when I came to CUBM, I actually was just coming for the Christian education part of it. But when I interviewed to come into the school, found out about the DCP program. And that I could earn the credit that I needed to get into college, to get into that DCP program. That’s how I originally got into CUBM.

JS: What year?

DH: Well, let’s see. The early 90’s.

JS: So you were pioneering. Because CUBM started in ‘88. So you were in the early days.How long did it take you to finish?

DH: A year and a half?

JS: So you really knocked it out pretty quick.

DH: Yes, I did. Because I came in with about 25 or 30 credits. So I was able to transfer those credits, and then I actually was accepted conditionally into the DCP program with 60 credits. So that overlapped. I finished CUBM while I started DCP. CUBM had to be one of the greatest blessings in and of itself, especially in terms of college prep. It really did bridge a gap to give aspects of preparation for college that I didn’t have. The English, the science, the humanities, that I didn’t have and needed. I got those there as well as wonderful foundation for Christian education.

JS: Where were you working when you were going to CUBM?

DH: I was the administrator for Nazarene Baptist Church. At that point, I was the church secretary, and I was the coordinator for their after-school program. So, I had begun my journey with working with kids and families.

JS: Where were you living then? Were you down in the Mon Valley? Or were you up here in Pittsburgh?

DH: No, I was up in Pittsburgh. I’ve only been in the Mon Valley for two years now.

JS: Ah okay. And are you a Pittsburgher? Were you raised here?

DH: Yes. I was born and raised in Beltzhoover.

JS: And so, you graduated from CUBM, and you went on to ADCP? Yeah, they make us call it ADCP now. They keep correcting us. Adult Degree Completion Program. An important distinction, I guess! So what year did you finish that?

DH: I finished that in 2000. Because I graduated Duquesne in 2003.

JS: With what?

DH: That was my master’s degree.

JS: In what?

DH: Pastoral ministry.

JS: Really? From Duquesne. I’m a Duquesne grad. So you graduated in pastoral ministry in 2003. And what are you doing then? Still working at Nazarene?

DH: I was at Nazarene there, yes.

JS: So that brings us up to 2003. Where did you go from there?

DH: I went to United Theological Seminary. But I didn’t go there right away. I just graduated from United this past December.

JS: Oh, congratulations. And what did you earn there?

DH: I earned a doctorate.

JS: D-min?

DH: I’m a D Min, yes.

JS: Now, United, where are they located? Are they out of Ohio or where are they at?

DH: They’re in Dayton, Ohio, yes.

JS: Was that a good experience?

DH: It was a wonderful experience; very challenging. Didn’t really understand the mechanics. I understood some of it, because it’s actually patterned after the DCP program. That same putting together of the project. So I was familiar with that part of the process from DCP program. The only difference was in DCP, there was someone who was holding your hand and walking you through it, and making sure all your parts were correct. And, in the doctoral program, it is not. The first book they give you is a book by Patricia Cranton, and it’s on Independent Study. And they really push that; your development and learning is self-directed. And learning how to motivate yourself and stay the course, you have to be, in order to complete that program.

JS: But it was a rewarding experience. You just graduated, you said, last year. So did you start ministry while you were in school, or did you start school after you took the pastorate?

DH: After I took the pastorate, but while I was in school. I was called to Mt. Sinai, went to the pastorate and the year after I started pastoring there, I started the program. And I actually did my doctorate on the program I started.

JS: And we want to hear about that. I just want to finish out; talk to us about your call to the church. How did this unfold? Not just practically, but internally for you? How did you come to grips with this is what God has called me to do, and this is the right situation for you?

DH: While at Nazarene, I was licensed to preach in 1993, while I was still in Homestead. There were three of us that were licensed together, and we were the first three in the history of that church to be licensed, the three females. And then I was ordained in 1995. I went to Nazarene and I eventually became the assistant pastor of the church. In the process of assisting in the pastorate, I began to understand the call to develop leaders, and to be a leader, an administrator. I did run the day-to-day operations of the church. I was accustomed to doing all of those natural things. The only thing I didn’t do on a regular basis was preach every Sunday. So the experience of that was there and the development in becoming comfortable in that type of situation. In it, I still didn’t believe that women could pastor. That was an act of God.

JS: And how did that come about?

DH: Seeking the face of God, and really being called to a church. When I was invited to come to Mt. Sinai, I did not go there thinking I was going to pastor the church. I thought I was going to go there and preach. And just help fill the pulpit while they were seeking a pastor. And it never occurred to me that they were going to ask me to pastor them. But I had told God, in my prayer time, that I wasn’t going looking for a church.

But I said, if God opened the door for me, then I would believe that it was Him that was doing it. Because it was not something I was actually looking for. So when they asked me to pastor them, honestly I was surprised, and yet, not uncomfortable with the decision. It came as a natural progression, or a natural part of the process.

JS: So it flowed.

DH: Yes.

JS: So you didn’t have to make anything happen. It came pursuing you.

DH: Yes.

JS: So what’s it been five years? Tell us about how it’s gone.

DH: Well, it’s been building a church. God gave me a church that was wonderful in that it was a church with no debt, a paid off building. And, not broke. What it didn’t have was offices, a Sunday school, a choir or a musician! So in building a church, and there were seven people as members. We have about 70 now. So, the process of growing a church and raising up leaders, organizing ministries; it’s a process. And it’s been a wonderful process. It’s been very rewarding to see people come, acknowledge Jesus as their Savior, be baptized, and then become a productive part of the church community. It’s been wonderful to watch that happen. And to know that I’ve had a hand in that.

JS: So you enjoy preaching?

DH: Very much.

JS: What are you preaching on now? What’s your theme?

DH: I’ve been back to the basics over this last year. So I’ve really been going back and teaching the basic rudiments of the church: knowing God, a prayer life, walking in relationship with God and with one another. The basics. I think because at this point, this year, I also became the president of our ecumenical ministerium.

And there’s always been so many hangups and differences. We can’t go to that church because they’re Holiness, or they’re Catholic, and they don’t believe like we believe. And teaching them that we worship one God. And teaching not to focus so much on where we are different. But what is our common ground? The blood of Jesus is our common ground. We’re all saved by the same method. There’s only one way to go up, through Jesus Christ.

JS: So let me get this straight. You were in school. When did you become president of the ecumenical?

DH: I actually became president this year.

JS: And you’re going to school. You’ve got your own church, you’ve got your own ministry, and you’re over the ministerium. What else are you doing? We’re going to go over the after-school program in a minute. What else are you involved in?

DH: Well, as a part of the Baptist faith, we have a local association in the southwestern part of Pennsylvania, that’s actually where our church is. And so our association there is called the Youghiogheny Western Baptist Association. We have a minister’s conference, and I am the president.

JS: So it’s the equivalent of the one up here? The Baptist ministers that meets on Mondays?

DH: Yes.

JS: And you head it up down there?

DH: Yes, I do.

JS: You’re a busy lady.

DH: Thank you! I actually helped them reorganize it. I see a pattern in that. When I went down there, of course in that same five-year period, they didn’t have a conference. And the moderator of that association asked me to help put it back together, which I did. And when it was put back together, they needed to elect officers, and I was elected by all the brothers, to be the first president.

JS: How’s it been being the first woman in ministry? You had any push back, or has it gone pretty well?

DH: There’s always push back. But, I believe that your gift makes room for you. And my pastor, who has already gone to be with the Lord, taught us that the higher up you go in ministry, the more gender-less it’s supposed to become. So it’s not about my gender, and I don’t present myself as a woman in ministry. I present myself as a preacher and minister who just happens to be female.

JS: Let’s talk a little bit in the moments remaining about the Mon Valley After School Program.

DH: It is a behavior modification program for children that are at risk of becoming part of the system. Whether it’s the criminal system, or the CYS system. Somewhere in there, they’re at risk. The behaviors usually demonstrate themselves in school, when they’re away from home. It’s usually where kids act out. So my collaboration with the kids, with the justice system, and with the behavioral health community. And the program is designed to challenge children to take responsibility for their action. To see and set goals for themselves, and to accomplish those goals, by understanding that they have choices, that there are positive and negative consequences to every choice, and that they can decide which choice they make. And we walk them through that on a day to day basis.

JS: So obviously you get them after school. And where do you bring them? Do you have your own building?

DH: We’re housed at the YMCA in Monongahela. And they’ve given us a wonderful space. We have a full kitchen, a multipurpose room, a computer lab, and a room for them to do homework. We provide a full balanced meal every day, based on the USDA guidelines. We provide tutoring. We provide additional homework help, and then we have therapeutic sessions; both group and individual. They have group sessions every day that focus on communication, problem solving, decision making, anger management, and conflict resolution.

JS: And how many students are you impacting?

DH: Our capacity right now is 25. We have currently in our program right now, 17. Really there are almost three boys to every girl. Which I always think is interesting.

JS: Why do you think that is interesting?

DH: That there are far more boys in the program, and yet the girls are the ones that act out more.

JS: Now where is your funding from?

DH: We’re funded through Washington County.

JS: And you founded this program?

DH: Actually, it was started by a woman named Loretta Manis, who passed away. Her original vision for the program was to save children before they served time. It was actually an intervention program to keep kids out of jail, very hardcore program. And once she passed away, a lot of the dynamics of the program failed; they stopped working. And mainly because I think she got sick very quickly, so there wasn’t someone to come take over. When I came into the program, it was only doing homework help.

So it gave me an opportunity and breathe some life into it, without some of the harshness. We don’t yell at children. Some of the things we might do are some tougher programs. And yet, we’re very rigid in the things that we do require. A requirement of this program is that parents are involved in this program. They’re required to come and learn the same tools that we teach those children. So that when they get out of the program, they’re still doing it.

JS: How long have you been involved with this program?

DH: I’m in my fourth year of the program.

JS: Why take after you already have the church? You already are a pastor. How did you see that tying in or how did you sense this was something God wanted you to do?

DH: When I was at Nazarene, in addition, I did in-home services for Rankin Christian Center. And their funding was through the Children Youth and Family of Allegheny County. I did in-home services. And so I was in the home dealing with the at-risk behaviors of children, and their families on a day to day, one-onone basis. And so when I got the pastorate, I was still doing that.

Before I moved to the mid Mon Valley, I always say the connection between the church, and this intervention. What I did in the home, was simply take the biblical principles through the scripture, and teach them through behavior modification. And so, there’s a scriptural model for conflict resolution. There’s a scriptural model for problem solving. All I did was take those scriptural models, put them in every day language, and teach it. And that’s still what I do.

So for me, there’s never been a difference between the program, and the church, except in the approach to it. I’ve always introduced the clients that I’ve had to the Lord, in some way. And then connected them, many times to churches who have outreach programs. I would connect them to the church. Because the truth is, modification is something that we can do, but true change comes from God.

JS: Amen. Now did you say your D Min project was about the juvenile after school program?

DH: Yes.

JS: So, you got a chance to combine your academic work with the practical work that you were doing?

DH: Yes.

JS: As we wrap up, what works of wisdom would you have for someone starting out where you started out a few years back. You know, children, and a call to ministry, and trying to figure it all out. What words of wisdom, what steps can you recommend for them to help get them to a point where you are today?

DH: Of course, I could say trust in the Lord with all your heart. Certainly, I could say that. But to be patient with yourself. To know that we all make mistakes. But that God is such a loving and forgiving God. He’s a redemptive, restoring God. That if we would just allow Him, He will direct our path. He will show us. And that there’s nothing that comes to us, without us first being willing to say use me, show me. We have to invest in not only ourselves, but our future. And our children are still our future.

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