- Community Impact
- Our City/Our Campus
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Introducing the new director of the Hill District Community Engagement Center
Kelly Protho is excited to return to the Hill District as director of the Hill District Community Engagement Center (CEC).
Protho, who started in her new role on March 17, most recently worked as a senior applied learning and development specialist with the Allegheny Department of Health and Human Services. She earned her bachelor’s in political science at Hampton University.
There, she conducted trainings on advancing racial equity and the practical applications of trauma-enforced care. This experience, she said, allows her to constructively engage and connect with residents, who may have dealt with the traumas of racism and sexism.
Protho said she couldn’t think of any job she’d rather do as her new role as director allows her to help shape programming and build partnerships in the community to create meaningful, positive changes for the Hill District.
The CECs are part of Pitt’s Neighborhood Commitments programs, where the University partners with community organizations and groups to help bring about positive changes in Pittsburgh’s underserved communities, including Homewood and the Hill District.
She said her experience in the Hill District makes it a special place for her.
“It's very helpful because my heart is here, and my heart is in this,” Protho said. “I'm here to serve the community, I know that the history with Pitt and the Hill District community is not the greatest, and I'm here to make sure that I'm being intentional about being transparent.”
Protho grew up in Wilkinsburg and Monroeville, where she graduated from Gateway Senior High School.
As an adult, she and her children lived in the Hill District for eight years in her mother’s home, which she considers to be her family home.
[Here’s how a Pitt program in the Hill District is closing the digital divide in Pittsburgh]
She said being back in the Hill District in this new role feels different because she’s positioned to have more of an impact on the community than she did before in a previous position at Macedonia FACE. There, she worked as a supervisor for family engagement programming.
Her priorities are making connections, going out to meet folks and building relationships.
“I think that that is paramount in any type of community engagement work — building rapport with community residents, with the stakeholders,” she said. “So that is the foundation that I want to lay for this first year, meeting with as many folks as I can, getting out there.”
She’s particularly excited about the center’s upcoming programming for its senior citizens and STEAM programming around artificial intelligence.
“I get an opportunity to make sure that our community is not being left behind in that conversation.”
She’s previously worked with the CEC through its Base Camps, where she served as a neighborhood advisory council and stakeholder within the community.
Hill District residents can look forward to the CEC’s upcoming summer camps for elementary through middle school students, professional development opportunities and more.
“I'm looking to make sure that everything that we do is mutually beneficial for the community and for Pitt to be able to collaborate and bring new ideas and new programming to the community,” she said.
— Donovan Harrell, photography by Aimee Obidzinski