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Community members celebrate University partnerships in the Hill District

  • Community Impact
  • Our City/Our Campus

Vaccinating thousands of residents during the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the many efforts lauded at a recent gathering at the Hill District Community Engagement Center (CEC).

“Within maybe 48 hours of the pandemic hitting us all across the country, we were already in conversations with key community collaborators, trying to rally support COVID-relief services,” said Pitt’s Kirk Holbrook, director of the Hill District CEC. “It was surreal, especially at the onset of the pandemic. Our work got deeper at that time and the CEC showed its value — working with the community to fill needs organically and authentically.”

About 100 Hill District residents, community partners and members of the Pitt community gathered on June 4 at the CEC’s temporary home in the Blakey Building to reflect on the center’s contributions and celebrate the partnerships and services like the clinics that have helped it thrive.

The CECs are a neighborhood commitment and a bridge between the University and historically marginalized communities, sometimes described as “a front door to Pitt.” The first CEC opened in Homewood in 2018.

The June celebration, which commemorated the anniversary of the Hill District CEC’s soft opening and the 2019 Community Forum, provided attendees with food, fun and interactive activities through multiple “intergenerational” workshops centered on different topics such as preserving family memories, forensic science and building robots.

Darelle Porter, executive director of Ozanam Inc. who has collaborated with the CEC since 2018, praised the center and its partners for their contributions to youth programs like his. He said he’s seen community members’ attitudes about the University shift as Pitt people showed a willingness to listen and truly commit to investing in its surrounding neighborhoods. 

“Pitt did actually listen to the community to see what was needed,” Porter said. “And now they're executing it.”

“The most powerful part of the day for me was the partners’ breakfast,” said Lina Dostilio, vice chancellor of engagement and community affairs (ECA) at Pitt. “We heard clearly that where there had been skepticism, and concern was now trust and a positive outlook on what the neighborhood commitment will lead to. We would never have gotten here without the hard work of our on-the-ground CEC staff and their close partners in the community and university.”

Students from various organizations and academic units, which regularly partner with ECA to provide programming and services through the CECs, supported several workshops and activities for the celebration.

These student collaborations were conducted through the University Honors College, the Swanson School of Engineering’s Robotics and Automation Society, the University Library Systems Archives and Special Collections, the Department of Biological Sciences, the School of Computing and Information and Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. University collaborators from the School of Social Work, School of Medicine, School of Public Health, men’s basketball team and the Office of Child Development also joined the event.

Other attendees included members of the CEC’s Neighborhood Advisory Council, the ECA’s Pitt Advisory Council and several Hill District community organizations, including Ozanam Inc., the 2900 Webster Avenue Block Association, the Zone 2 Public Safety Council and Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Learn more about Pitt’s Neighborhood Commitments and the CECs.


— Donovan Harrell