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Pitt launches volunteer opportunities in honor of Juneteenth

  • Community Impact
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Volunteers from the University of Pittsburgh will mark the Juneteenth weekend by working at community gardens in the East End, South Hills and Mon Valley in what organizers hope will become a Pitt tradition.

All faculty, staff and students are invited to take part in the “Rooted in the Community” events at four locations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 16. Transportation to the sites will be provided.

“Community gardens have become gathering spaces and meaningful pillars of their communities, commonly led by people who live in the neighborhoods where they’re located,” said Chance M. Wideman, director of equity and inclusion programs for the University’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

They also play an important role in providing fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods that have no grocery stores or supermarkets, he said. Wideman cited a study by Just Harvest that showed almost half of Pittsburghers do not live within one mile of a store that sells fresh food.

“This staggering figure has not shifted much in the past decade, and it’s a direct reason we’ve seen an abundance of community gardens being established in various Pittsburgh neighborhoods,” Wideman said. “Out of necessity, many neighborhoods started community gardens to supply free food to residents who may not have access or the ability to travel to grocery stories outside of their communities.”

Volunteers from Pitt will work in the following community gardens:

  • Hill District: Volunteers will spread mulch using wheelbarrows, assist with building a three-stage compost bin, clear and discard all weeds growing between raised beds, rake and discard grass clippings at green spaces, build a melon patch and pick up litter.
  • Homewood: Sankofa Village Community Garden has installed a pagoda on its property and needs help completing the floor. Volunteers will be adding compost to the gravel, laying pavers and planting ground cover. If time permits, they will also do some painting.
  • Knoxville: Saint Paul AME Church is developing a “forever garden” and needs help cleaning away debris, rocks and weeds as they build for the future.
  • McKeesport: Volunteers will help clean up and replant one pollinator garden and, if time allows, clean up additional gardens in the city. Volunteers will be digging and hauling, refilling areas with fresh topsoil and planting. Volunteers also will help build up garden edging.

“This work symbolizes an opportunity for us to think about our investment in service,” said Clyde Wilson Pickett, the University’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer. “It’s a reminder that each of us is a part of the community, and when we have an opportunity to serve, we need to be willing to do so.”

Wideman and others hope that this year’s Juneteenth volunteer effort becomes an annual tradition, and that it will lead to other opportunities for partnerships between the University and community groups throughout the year.

“This is our community, and we should not be there for just a one-time opportunity,” Pickett said. “We have a responsibility to provide ongoing support and involvement.”

That spirit is why the theme of the event — “Rooted in the Community” — is more than just a catchphrase, Wideman added.

“It’s important for people and institutions to stay ‘rooted,’ because your roots form your foundation,” he said. “Establishing a core set of roots allows for the growth of many branches, while staying connected to a common cause and purpose. Staying connected is what gives our work clarity and meaning.”

To register, visit the PittServes website and search “Juneteenth” or click the links in the list above. Refreshments will be provided. Volunteers should wear old clothes and sturdy shoes.


— Jason Togyer, illustration by Amy Kleebank

Service all year round

There are no borders or boundaries when it comes to learning from each other and using that knowledge to address community challenges. Everyone at Pitt can find ways to serve their communities anytime through the PittServes website and the Office of Engagement and Community Affairs’ engagement map. Engagement and outreach activities can be found in 43 of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania.