By DONOVAN HARRELL
A part of Homewood Avenue was closed on Oct. 16 to make room for a block party complete with food, games, raffle prizes and more as members of the Homewood and Pitt communities packed the Homewood Community Engagement Center to celebrate its one-year anniversary.
Community members shared their experiences with the center, and partnering programs held an open house to advertise the services available at the center.
For the past year, residents have used the center, part of Pitt Neighborhood Commitments, for a variety of services, including mentoring, legal consultations, art workshops and presentations, IT assistance, career information sessions and more.
The center has served more than 4,500 community members with 667 events held in the space, center Director Daren Ellerbee said. There are also 41 ongoing programs for people of all age groups in the Homewood community.
“I feel like we have made a lot of headway as relates to attracting residents to the center, specifically,” Ellerbee said. “That’s my primary focus. I want people to know that this place is here for them, that this place has programs and opportunities that could benefit them and their families.”
And “the best is yet to come” for the center, Ellerbee said, as it has just started its 15-year lease of the property. Phase two of the center is on track to open at the beginning of 2020. Its offerings will focus more on health and nutrition with a Wellness Pavilion from the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, a display kitchen and more.
Anthony Delitto, dean of SHRS, said many of the services in phase two will be provided through a partnership with Alma Illery Medical Center in Homewood. Delitto said he hopes the 13 programs in SHRS, most of which will work with residents in the center, can help fill a need in the community for residents struggling with access to physical therapy, occupational therapy and other services to help manage chronic conditions.
“I hope it’s so successful that we have to figure out a way to invest in it,” Delitto said. “I hope that the community needs are so great that people feel comfortable using the Wellness Pavilion, and it presents the University with a dilemma: ‘How are we going to sustain it?’ You know, because I would love it to be indispensable.”
Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for engagement, thanked Homewood residents for using the services at the center for the past year. It was the strength of the partnership between residents and Pitt that has made the center successful so far.
“We didn’t come into Homewood, saying, ‘Pitt knows what Homewood needs,’ ” Humphrey said. “We didn’t come into Homewood making a decision about what we need to do in Homewood. We came in here, and we worked with the community.”
Lina Dostilio, associate vice chancellor for Community Engagement, added that the center “is a very warm, welcoming, inviting place, and there are meaningful things to do here.” This has helped build community trust in the center.
“People are very quick to invite folks in and say, ‘Come on, let’s sit down’ and talking, because we’re very transparent,” Dostilio said. “You can meet everybody; you can see how things are happening. And I think a big piece of building trust is transparency and just being able to see the work that’s happening.”
For Cheri Smith, a 20-year Homewood resident and member of the center’s advisory council, the center provides the community with well-needed resources free of charge.
Still, she said, there are skeptics.
“That’s because they haven’t used it,” Smith said. “That’s what I tell them. Once you go and you see what the benefits are, you’ll change your mind.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Associate Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement Lina Dostilio as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement Centers. It has been updated to reflect the correct title of her position.
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