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Civic Action Week gets students, faculty and staff out in the city

  • Community Impact
  • Our City/Our Campus

On Friday, Oct. 8, Pitt faculty, staff and students fanned out across the city. In churches, gardens and community centers, they volunteered alongside community organizations, closing the second annual University of Pittsburgh Civic Action Week.

Organized by PittServes and the Office of Engagement and Community Affairs, Civic Action Week connected the Pitt community with local organizations through workshops and volunteer opportunities. 

“It’s really about getting our staff and faculty and students out in community, working alongside our partners to advance some of their needs and some of the work that they might just not have the capacity to do,” Pitt Assistant Director of Community Engagement Alex Toner said. “From the organizations we’ve talked to, everyone’s been really thankful that we’ve been able to pull it together this year.”

The weeklong event came out of a desire to offer remote opportunities for engagement during the pandemic last year, but Toner added the expanded programming is here to stay. This year’s workshops, which were recorded and archived on the Civic Action Week website, spanned topics relating to civic responsibility, including community organizing, voting and sustainability. “Civic Action Week is meant to have those conversations, to dive deeper into some of those persistent societal challenges and to move people towards action in their individual lives and their work as Pitt,” Toner said. “We really want people to feel energized, to feel connected and to feel like they have options and outlets for action.”

Garima Patel, a senior bioengineering student and the Civil Action Week student chair, said these sessions were a crucial part of the week’s offerings, as well as of her own experiences with the Office of PittServes.

“A lot of times there is a misconception that service only means hands-on volunteering, which can feel very superficial,” she said. “Civic Action Week allows students to attend speaker sessions in addition to hands-on service and philanthropy to learn more about how they can stay engaged with the community around them.”

On Friday’s Pitt Day of Caring, one group walked over the hill to a Western Pennsylvania Conservancy community flower garden, pulling summer annuals, invasive foxtail grass and thistle to prepare the garden for fall. In the shadow of the Pitt Sports Dome, the team spent the warm fall morning enjoying the opportunity to get away from their computers and to feel more connected with the neighborhood. 

“It was nice — I like doing stuff with my hands and being outside,” said third-year health information management major Alexis Martir, who volunteered at the site. “It’s so different from my usual week, sitting in my room and doing homework.”

Community partners at the sites aided by Pitt students throughout the week also shared their appreciation for the effort. “Turtle Creek Homeplate Garden loves the Pitt students who volunteer for Civic Action Week,” said community partner Connie Tinsley. “It restores our faith that the younger generation understands that they have the ability to create positive change through their willingness to get involved.”

“The most beneficial aspect is personal I think,” said Kitty Vagley of the Friends of South Side Park. “It is simply inspiring to meet these young students who are so eager to chip in to help and get a better understanding of the overall project.”

Ultimately, Toner said, the goal is to not just engage Pitt faculty, staff and students for a week, but to motivate more long-lasting change. 

“Even if we just get one person moving toward volunteering with a community organization or signing up for an advocacy event, Civic Action Week will have been worth it.”

This story has been updated.

 Patrick Monahan