The grand opening of the Community Engagement Center (CEC) in Homewood is the realization of a vision that Dr. John Wilds and others at Pitt have been working towards for many years. As Assistant Vice Chancellor for Community Relations, Dr. Wilds’ goal has been to maximize the potential of what the University of Pittsburgh and the community can accomplish together through meaningful partnerships. With the doors opening at the CEC in Homewood today, it is a perfect time to reflect on the decades of commitment that have brought about this exciting new chapter in our civic life.
At Pitt, Dr. Wilds has embraced the opportunity to bring the University’s services and resources to the community, a core principle of the CEC. You’d be hard-pressed to walk through Oakland with him without stopping regularly to greet friends. This is a result of his more than 30 years of listening, learning, and participating, constantly working to understand how Pitt could contribute in a positive way to its surrounding neighbors and Pittsburgh as a whole.
Pitt signaled its goal of deepening the commitment to local partnerships when the Office of Governmental Relations changed its name to the Office of Community and Governmental Relations (CGR). Through CGR, Dr. Wilds solidified Pitt’s neighborhood commitment to Oakland and areas of the Hill District adjacent to campus. Similarly, the directors of Pitt’s neighborhood commitments in Homewood and the Hill – Daren Ellerbee and Kirk Holbrook – serve as a bridge between members of those communities and the University. Dr. Wilds is mentoring these newer staff, helping them to take up the work of community-building. Leading by example, you can find him on almost every night of the week at one of the regular Oakland neighborhood meetings and events, being a sounding board and resource to Pitt’s neighbors.
In collaboration with his colleagues Tracy Soska and Sabina Deitrick, Dr. Wilds translated input from the community into action. In 2000, the Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) was established to mobilize students, faculty, and staff members, leveraging Pitt’s teaching and research assets to understand and address problems identified by COPC neighborhoods. Housing improvement, neighborhood revitalization, job training, education, and youth development were just some of the topics collaborated on through the COPC in the Oakland, Oak Hill, and Hazelwood areas. The tenets of this community-based work have become institutionalized at Pitt as we seek to partner, adding to and supporting rather than duplicating efforts of the community.
Offering a front door to Pitt in the community, the CEC’s continue the University’s neighborhood commitments, formalizing their existence and expansion. These commitments are based on long-term partnerships in neighborhoods that have invited Pitt to collaborate with them. This means deeper relationships and greater access to Pitt’s expertise, resources, and connections that can enhance work they are doing. For Pitt faculty and students, the CECs offer an opportunity to learn from and with the community in real-world settings that broaden their perspective. Summed up: Pitt’s neighborhood commitments build a stronger University and a stronger community.
Dr. Wilds says this is a vision realized, believing that by offering direct access to Pitt in the neighborhood, the CECs can deliver resources and assets in a more impactful way. This exciting new venture, rooted in a strong foundation, will set the University on a new journey of collaboration. It is our hope that this is just the beginning of our work together, and that it is the natural next step that will allow us to continue to grow and develop together.