How a Donation to Pittsburgh’s Parks Turned into a Meaningful Wedding Present

We recently sat down with Layla Banihashemi to discuss a Schenley Plaza brick donated in honor of her and her husband.

Q: Tell us the story of how you received your Schenley Plaza Brick.

A: My husband and I met on Pitt's campus, in the early 2000's. On our first date we walked through Schenley Plaza to Flagstaff Hill. We sat on a bench and talked for hours.  I had written about this first date on our wedding website, and some friends of my husband and I saw it and thought it would be a lovely wedding gift for us. So, a bunch of them got together and donated to have a brick in our names.

My friend Melanie Starkey was the one that pulled everyone together. She sent a letter to Pittsburgh Parks and organized a card, that all our friends signed. So, it's really nice to stop by and visit our brick, which is a reminder of my husband and I's love, but also my friend's love.

Q: And you've recently had the brick restored, right? Tell us about that. 

A: Yes, just last year actually. My husband and I both work on campus, so we come by to visit from time to time. We noticed it had gotten a bit faded. So, I got in touch with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy on how to have it refreshed.

Q: What does having this brick mean to you and your husband?

A: My husband and I have been here since the early 2000's, so we've been together through so much here in Pittsburgh and at Pitt in both our personal and professional lives. So, the brick is like a touchstone to honor that journey, as well as the friendships that have supported us throughout that time.

Q: Do you and your husband spend a lot of time in the parks still?

A: Yes, we do! We lived in Squirrel Hill for many years, and we've worked at Pitt for many years, so we spend a lot of time in either Frick Park or Schenley Park. And we just recently moved to O'Hara, so there's some different parks in that area that we're exploring now.

Q: Do you have a favorite park?

A: I would have to say Frick Park by the blue slide area. One of my yoga instructors would hold a yoga session there weekly, so I have a special fondness for blue slide park.

Q: What do Pittsburgh's parks mean to you, besides your first date with your husband?

A: I'm a researcher here at Pitt, and I study stress. There's been a lot of literature recently about how natural, open, green spaces are important for mental health. So, I think all the work the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy does to preserve those natural green spaces, restore the land, and plant native species is really important. It means a lot to me from the standpoint of promoting everyone's mental health in the community.

Q: You are also contributor to the Perennial Fund. How did you get started with that?

A: I was recovering from a major illness a few years ago, and during my recovery period, that same friend who organized the brick as a wedding gift, donated to the Perennial Fund in my honor. I just thought that was such a kind thing that the perennials in my name would go in and spark new life. It's the gift that keeps giving, having those blooms come forth every year. So now, whenever I have a friend I want to honor, or a friend who is going through something difficult, I think of them, and I like to contribute to the Perennial Fund in their name.

Click here to learn more about purchasing a brick at Schenley Plaza.