Understanding Volunteerism and Public Service at Pitt

Volunteer service is one of many ways that Pitt engages with the community. This framework was co-developed by the Office of Engagement and Community Affairs and PittServes to show that action taken in any one of our volunteer focus areas can lead to impact in child and community thriving.

What We're Learning with Communities

Communities already know what they need. In fact, they have known for a long time and they started working on it long before we showed up. Our role as invited volunteers is to support the work communities are already leading.

Through The Pittsburgh Study, a community-partnered study to find out what works to help children thrive, community members identified what matters most for child thriving:

  • Racial justice, equity, and inclusion
  • Caring families and relationships
  • Strong minds and bodies
  • Healthy environments
  • Vibrant communities
  • Positive self-worth
  • Fun and happiness
  • Safety

What We're Learning from Research

Around the world, governments and international organizations are using data and research to develop frameworks to help us understand the conditions that affect people's lives. When our public service is guided by these frameworks, our efforts are more likely to make positive change.

Within these frameworks are the Social Determinants of Health, which are the conditions in the environment where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services groups the Social Determinants of Health into five areas:

  • Economic Stability
  • Education Access and Quality
  • Health Care Access and Quality
  • Neighborhood and Built Environment
  • Social and Community Context

Taking action to address these conditions can have transformative effects on people's lives by improving health and reducing disparities.

What We're Doing About It

Pitt is uniquely positioned to bring together the wisdom of communities and the insights of research. As a globally connected institution, we’re fluent in the national and international research about thriving. As a locally embedded public institution, we’re connected to the lived experience of communities.

Our six focus areas combine the community needs identified by The Pittsburgh Study and the conditions for thriving identified by the Social Determinants of Health:

  • Education: Supporting the potential of local K-12 students
  • Basic Needs: Expanding access to food, housing, clothing, and sanitary items
  • Health Equity: Responding to disproportionate health outcomes
  • Civic Participation: Encouraging full, informed participation in civic life
  • Digital Access and Equity: Fostering full inclusion in our digital society
  • Economic Opportunity: Connecting people and businesses to resources that support economic inclusion and advancement

These focus areas guide our volunteerism and public service efforts to ensure that we will make the greatest impact as we joyfully share our time and resources serving with the community.

How We're Doing It

The Plan for Pitt identifies three foundational strengths of the University:

  • Our People: scholars, learners, and leaders pursuing knowledge
  • Our Programs: academics, research, and service
  • Our Purpose: improving lives and communities

These strengths make an impact through engagement with Our Partners: the community organizations, systems, and residents we work with. It's through service with our partners that our strengths matter the most.

We’re gathering Pitt’s strengths from across the University to work toward child and community thriving. To do this right, we're partnering with communities as co-leaders and basing our volunteer service on:

  • Shared values: We’re engaging with a commitment to anti-racism, accountability, and humility through pre-service training, ongoing discussions, and continual consultation with partners.
  • Shared strengths: We’re matching Pitt's strengths and resources with community assets and needs, with a focus on health and wellness
  • Shared leadership: We’re building relationships based on respect and reciprocity by acknowledging our complicated legacy and committing to more equitable and just partnership.
  • Shared action: We're volunteering to build capacity for what's already working and expand access to resources that can bridge the gaps.

When we align our efforts, small steps add up to a big difference. Students, faculty, staff, and partners come together to work on solution-sized projects that make transformative change.

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