It is with great enthusiasm that I reach out to you as we embark on a new chapter together in the New Year. The Hill District Community Engagement Center has accomplished a great deal within the eighteen months that I have been the director– laying a strong foundation for our future work together. We have displayed our commitment to ensuring that community voice is central to our partnership by reaching several hundred residents and stakeholders through a series of community presentations, meetings, and community forums. We forged strong relationships with local partners, having a temporary office in the Bedford Dwellings while creating partnerships across the community. Through reimagining how to develop collaborative opportunities we have, in turn, strengthened our capacity to make lasting impacts through the Community Engagement Center in the years to come. Now, as we begin a new journey together, I look forward to building on these efforts and welcoming the community into our new home at the Pitt CEC in the Hill at Blakey Center. For the coming two years, we will be leasing part of the 1st floor and all of the 2nd floor of the Blakey Center. We now have a home for many of our partnership activities and will maintain and expand community use of the facility later in the spring as we hire our staff and implement our room reservation system. I will offer more information about Blakey later within this message.
Last semester, we continued to build off of our work in the areas of STEM education, Senior Services, and the Cultural Arts and cultivated joint spaces for our partners to dream and plan together.
- The School of Engineering and the School of Computing and Information teamed up with the Center that CARES, the Thelma Lovette YMCA and ACH Clearpathways, to provide STEM education to Hill District students after-school. Students from the University of Pittsburgh, in partnership with Google, led introductory coding classes for 4th grade students during the school day at Miller and Weil Elementary.
- Last November, we created a joint working group focused on senior-related services in the community bringing representatives from the Schools of Social Work, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Dental Health amongst others, beside members of the community to discuss various initiatives and partnerships to address community-identified needs.
- Our work with the Center of African American Poetry and Poetics continued to provide tremendous experiences for the local artist community by teaming up with August Wilson House to bring Civil Rights and Black Arts Movement leader Sonia Sanchez to the Hill District.
The fall semester also saw new partnerships emerge, particularly with our student-athletes, as we imagined creative ways to provide pathways for those in the University’s Athletics Department to connect in meaningful and lasting ways.
- Both the Men’s and Women’s basketball teams held clinics in the community in partnership with Ozanam, Inc.,
- Members of the Pitt Football team and the Cheerleading squad held practices at Kennard Field with Hill District Youth Sports, in each instance skillfully combining athletic instruction with positive messaging related to leadership and academics.
- Student athletes from across the broad spectrum of sports were able to begin tutoring initiatives in local after-school programming, while piloting the 2nd & 7 reading program at Pittsburgh Miller, in an effort to cultivate a love for literacy in some of our most impressionable learners.
- The partnership with Athletics also witnessed members of the university community step-in during difficult times, helping to deliver meals to several families displaced by the DeRaud apartment fires and organizing a donation drive to offer supplies for families in need.
More about our home at Blakey Center:
Most exciting was our work together with the Hill Community Development Corporation in late December to come to terms on a lease agreement for our new home at the Blakey Program Center. The Pitt CEC in the Hill District at Blakey Center provides us with a temporary home for the next few years and a physical space in which to expand and increase opportunities to work together. With multiple classroom spaces, a computer lab, multi-purpose room, and conference areas- we can truly begin to leverage the university’s resources to support community agenda. With dedicated spaces for university partners like the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, or by hosting weekly office hours with Neighborhood Legal Services, we can begin to address a broad spectrum of communal challenges and maximize opportunities for collaboration. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to carry the historical legacy of the former Blakey Building and offer activities that will benefit the Hill District. Many members of our advisory council have talked glowingly about the history of the former K-boys Club and the excitement that surrounds seeing the space activated once again. I also have a personal connection, having worked in the Blakey Building for years running after-school and summer camp programs as part of the Hill House Association. I had a great relationship with ‘Mr. B’, a devoted community leader and mentor. Mr. Blakey had the biggest heart for the Hill District that you could find–and an unparalleled sense of duty to give back to current and future generations. I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to help bring back the vibrancy and activity of the Blakey Building through the Community Engagement Center and carry on the legacy of Mr. Blakey’s work.
The Community Engagement Center has found strength in its resilience through the last year and is now positioned to reach better and greater heights. There is much ahead to look forward to with emerging partnerships taking shape at our senior facilities, new collaborations with community-based arts organizations, and continued relationship building between university and community collaborators. This February, we will capitalize off of the great STEAM work we’ve been doing together to plan a STEAM Studio at our future home in the New Granada Theater, in an effort to reconnect the community with the city, region and world’s STEM ecosystem. And now– we have a front door to Pitt in the community which can anchor everything we do together. I would like to thank the members of my Neighborhood Advisory Council who have been the backbone for everything we’ve been able to accomplish. You have ensured that we center the community in all decisions and that all that we do together has mutual benefit. I am forever grateful for your partnership, and the countless others we have touched in the community through Pitt’s CEC in the Hill. The University of Pittsburgh is committed to be in partnership for the long-term and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead in the coming year.