There was a time when Pittsburghers could head down to Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill for a movie at the Squirrel Hill Theater and a few rounds of bowling at Forward Lanes. Sadly, those days are long gone.

The Squirrel Hill Theater closed in 2010, and Forward Lanes officially shut down in 2018. While the Squirrel Hill Theater building was demolished last year, the Forward Lanes space had remained vacant for the past four-plus years.

Earlier this month, that changed when Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh broke ground on the new physical location for its youth mental health program UpStreet at the former Forward Lanes site. UpStreet is aiming to begin providing its free mental health and career services in that space by the end of the 2022-23 academic year, according to UpStreet clinical director Erin Barr.

“It’s really a holistic approach to youth services in general,” Barr told the Union Progress. “Having somewhere to go that’s productive and supportive and you feel like you’re accomplishing something, that’s a nice alternative I think.”

Dana Gold, left, COO of Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh; Erin Barr, clinical director of UpStreet at JFCS; and State Rep. Dan Frankel attend the groundbreaking of UpStreet’s new physical location at the former Forward Lanes site in Squirrel Hill Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (Courtesy of JFCS Pittsburgh)

Barr is a North Hills native and licensed clinical social worker who has been working for JFCS in various “youth-focused” capacities since 2003. JFCS launched UpStreet in October 2020 to give Pittsburghers ages 12-22 a new — and hopefully easier — method of accessing mental health services.

The goal of UpStreet is to remove the typical barriers that sometimes block young people from pursuing therapy, Barr said. That has included providing telehealth resources to eliminate transportation concerns; funding UpStreet through grants so no one has to worry about financial or insurance road blocks; and removing the need to schedule appointments thanks to its online chat bot staffed by actual humans.

UpStreet currently employs three full-time therapists who generally see about 50 clients a week for individual therapy sessions both virtually and in person, Barr said. She thinks that UpStreet starting out in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic gave children living in more suburban areas access to mental health care “when they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.”

It’s worth mentioning that the age of consent in Pennsylvania for accessing mental health services without a parent or guardian’s permission is 14, which means that most UpStreet-eligible Pittsburghers don’t have to fret about caretakers who may not be supportive of their children seeking out therapy.

“When a young person is able to take some agency over their own treatment, I think that’s incredibly beneficial,” Barr said.

Barr lived in Squirrel Hill for a bit after earning her master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh. For her, “bowling never goes out of style,” and she has fond memories of hanging out at Forward Lanes during its heyday. She’s excited that its former home will allow UpStreet to start offering more in-person options in an area well trafficked by Pittsburgh youth — particularly students at nearby Allderdice High School.

“We’re looking forward to having a space to welcome people into and work with people in person more regularly than we are now,” Barr said.

Rendering of what the finished UpStreet location at the former Forward Lanes site in Squirrel Hill will look like upon completion. (Courtesy of JFCS Pittsburgh)

UpStreet getting a brick-and-mortar location feels like a win to advocates like Ron Graham, principal of Community School East in Turtle Creek. He has seen firsthand how the need for student mental health support “has accelerated” as pandemic-induced pressures have occasionally led to severe cases of anxiety and trauma.

Multiple Community School East students have become recurring UpStreet participants, Graham said. He called it the “best supportive group we’ve had since I’ve been here” and said that he’s seen positive behavioral changes in the students who have become UpStreet regulars.

In Graham’s mind, UpStreet taking over that spot on Forward Avenue will help create a “nonthreatening” and welcoming environment for students to seek refuge. He’s looking forward to continuing “a long and happy relationship with their services.”

“They have such great impact here with us and our students,” he said. “Our staff is ecstatic about the energy they bring and their commitment to the kids. That’s hard to find.”

That’s exactly the kind of feedback Barr probably loves to hear. She hopes that UpStreet setting up shop in Squirrel Hill will entice more of the program’s target demographic to give it a shot.

“We exist for you,” she said. “We’re here to serve and support young people. I’m pretty confident you won’t feel worse after coming in. If you’re unsure, it’s worth coming and having a conversation and checking us out.”

Joshua covers pop culture, media and more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Contact him at

Joshua Axelrod

Joshua covers pop culture, media and more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Contact him at