It didn’t take long for Shalom Mammen to realize the profound impact ACH Clear Pathways (ACH) has on the students they serve. ACH is a non-profit providing enriching and new experiences through visual and performing arts to undeserved students in the Hill District. Through these programs, they provide access to the arts while offering youth an opportunity to learn how to manage and express their emotions in a healthy way. As a Community Assistant (CA) placed with ACH for the academic year to gain professional experience and support its work, Shalom has a front-row seat to the organization’s contribution to the community.
Early on in his role as a Community Assistant for ACH, Shalom attended the first after school session of the year during which the organization was set to interact with students. Sitting on a bench outside the cafeteria, waiting for the program to start, he noticed a student running as fast as she could towards him. At first, he didn’t know what was going on. But then, she came to a short stop at the cafeteria door, turned to him, and said, “I’m here! I’m here! I’m ready for art!” She had a huge smile of anticipation and excitement on her face and Shalom knew at that moment the true importance of the program.
Seeing this girl’s excitement brought the organization’s mission into focus for Shalom and drove him to go above and beyond to support ACH’s goals. His first assignment was to develop a walking tour to showcase the five gorgeous, public murals created by students in ACH’s summer program. In less than three months, Shalom designed a brochure, planned a route, wrote descriptions of murals, and worked with Visit Pittsburgh to get the brochures into their office. But Shalom is humble and his greatest pride in the project is simply that he was lucky enough to play a role in raising awareness of the amazing art the students have done. He can’t wait for people to experience the tour.
Shalom has also worked to find alternative and cost-effective fundraising options for the organization and he recently presented his findings to the ACH Board for its approval, allowing the organization to move forward and pursue these fundraising avenues. As the year goes on, he will utilize the statistics skills he gained through his studies at Pitt to help the organization develop data analytics to not only measure their success, but also create a methodology for gathering, storing, and analyzing program data in the future. This data will be influential in helping ACH secure additional grant funding, exemplifying the type of capacity building impact that the CA program offers to local non-profits.
In addition to being part of gratifying projects like this, students involved in the CA program also walk away with a life-changing experience, broadening their perspectives and preparing them for professional work. In his six months with ACH, Shalom has developed a real love for the Hill District and the strong community there. As a junior majoring in neuroscience and pre-med, being a CA gave Shalom opportunities he wouldn’t have had otherwise: connecting with organizations serving the Pittsburgh community; learning more about the city; and engaging with a community different than his own. As a future physician, Shalom notes there can often be a disconnect between doctors and their patients, especially those from vulnerable communities. To him, humanity is the most important aspect of medicine. He believes the best approach to treatment is understanding and working with a patient and that a doctor’s responsibility is not only to treat a patient, but to also enhance overall quality of life. Working as a CA has given him the tools to successfully serve his future patients and has inspired him to work with vulnerable communities as a physician, while continuing to find other ways to engage with community. Similarly, Shalom has benefited academically from being a CA. He recently received the David C. Frederick Award from the University of Pittsburgh Honors College. This award is created specifically for high-achieving students and Shalom credits his work with ACH as a contributing factor to his success.
Collaborating with the community and appreciating the partnership between the University and community is a key component of Pitt’s Neighborhood Commitments. Pitt’s Neighborhood Commitments seek to build stronger communities and a stronger University based on long-term partnerships. The CECs ground this initiative and are embedded in the life the community. The Community Assistants program reflects this, with an intentional effort to connect participants and enhance efforts already in place among Homewood and Hill District community organizations.