As executive director of Tickets for Kids Charities, Jason Riley is dedicated to closing the gap that keeps at-risk and low-income children from attending arts and cultural, education and sporting events. That means providing more than 200,000 tickets a year through its Pittsburgh-based headquarters. Originally from Philadelphia, Riley lives with his husband, Ryan, in O’Hara Township.
What upcoming events are you excited to attend?
There are so many, but one is definitely at the top of my list — Come From Away at the Benedum Center. It’s been on my calendar for months. Not just because I like theater, but it might also alleviate some of the grief I get from my spouse. (I saw it without him in NYC.)
What is the best part of your job?
It’s without a doubt the notes we get from kids, their caregivers and the staff of organizations we partner with. The power of our experiences never ceases to amaze me. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to be exposed to so much, to have been formed and informed by positive social experiences, the arts, museums. When a kid tells you that they’re seeing the world in a new way for the first time, and reimagining what their place could be in that world, well … that’s why we do the work we do.
What is your big idea for Pittsburgh?
I’ve always been drawn to the water. I know I’m not offering anything new here, but it would be great to have a more vibrant waterfront experience up and down the rivers’ edges, for dining, playing and simply unwinding. Imagine the kinds of places where you’d be drawn to spread out a blanket and have lunch by the water. As the city evolves in exciting ways, it’s fun to think about the ways in which we can integrate the natural features of our landscape into that transformation.
It’s time to unwind, where do you head?
It’s in one of two polar opposite directions … out for a glass of wine, or out into the woods. While you can often find me unwinding over a drink with friends (one of our favorite stops is Andy’s, before taking advantage of whatever else is happening in the city), every now and then I decompress by heading out to our cabin in Central PA. There I enjoy the alone time for a couple of days in a tree stand.
What book would you highly recommend?
My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok. Asher’s struggle is a deeply personal one, pitting his religious beliefs against his natural talent, but it’s one we all face – finding our own personal balance between external and internal influences.
What song in your playlist is on endless repeat?
Midnight Train to Georgia. I’m usually singing the part of The Pips.
What is the one thing that would surprise Pittsburghers most about you?
I practiced dentistry for a brief time. That’s right … I did fillings, made dentures, even did a couple of extractions. I was going to school in El Salvador at the time and working at a community cooperative that included a dental clinic. My dental “training” consisted of assisting for a couple of days before being left alone with a patient to do my first filling. I remember my sense of shock as the dentist walked out of the room. I asked as she was leaving, “What do I do?” “Drill until the black is gone,” she replied.
Where will we find you this Saturday night?
We will be hosting friends from Philly. I love to show off the city when we have visitors in town. We’ll probably take them to our favorite restaurant, Senyai in Shadyside, then up to Mt. Washington for the incredible views.
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