Every Tuesday, amidst the hustle and bustle of the Community Engagement Center (CEC) in Homewood, you’ll notice a group of 16 Pitt undergrads talking animatedly in the community room. These are the Pitt Community Assistants (CA) who, in addition to their studies, are spending their academic year working with community-based organizations in Homewood and the Hill District.
The Community Assistants Program, facilitated by the CECs in partnership with Pitt Serves as part of Pitt’s Neighborhood Commitments, is in its second year. For community organization partners, the program deepens their relationship with Pitt as students build capacity for the organization and support their work. CAs complete a wide-range of projects including developing a curriculum for a STEM after school program, creating visual metrics, and data analysis. One organization was able to use their CA’s data analysis to advocate for and successfully expand their conference programming. Another organization is currently utilizing a curriculum created by their CA in a unique afterschool program. For each organizational partner, the CA’s provide more than an extra pair of hands: they carry out a challenging and skill-based project of the organization’s choosing. Each CA works 14 hours per week with their community organization host and participates in weekly, 2-hour reflection and learning sessions.
By participating, students have a year-long immersion with a neighborhood-based community organization with the aim of broadening their perspectives and preparing them for professional work. Olivia Kelley, a junior majoring in both Sociology and Urban Studies, serves as the Student Coordinator for the program this year. She’s learned the power of collaborating with the community and coordinates resources for her fellow CAs that support the students’ growth with this in mind. From working with Pitt Serves and CEC staff to develop and facilitate trainings to checking in regularly with each CA, Olivia brings a peer-mentor perspective to the cohort. In particular, Olivia helps her peers to appreciate that the community is an asset and that students’ learning can never come at the community’s inconvenience. Instead, it’s a partnership, and both the student and the organization benefit from their relationship.
Olivia has seen how participation in the program has influenced her fellow students’ career goals, demonstrating that they can use what they are learning to give back to communities and giving them professional skills in communication and leadership. Some students decide they want to teach in their spare time, students fall in love with new neighborhoods and neighbors, and there are even changes in how community members react to Pitt students.
Pitt’s Neighborhood Commitments seek to build stronger communities and a stronger University based on the 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. Throughout the year, we will be featuring the work of the CAs and feature the organization there are working within. Stay tuned!