The Oct. 18 ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Homewood Community Engagement Center marked a milestone for the Community and Governmental Relations Department at the University of Pittsburgh. A reality that Pitt Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer Patrick D. Gallagher, PhD, said is the result of at least two years of meetings and hard work.
“The vision is now real,” Gallagher said, thanking the many Homewood partners at the ceremony. “This center, your center, is as much about forging brighter futures and cultivating opportunities as it is about strengthening the University of Pittsburgh’s proud record of service, scholarships and research. It’s an exciting day for Pittsburgh and a new model of community engagement for Pitt.”
An estimated 400 Pitt staff, Homewood community partners, residents and well-wishers were on hand to witness the gallant event and tour the building, located at 622 N. Homewood Ave.
Considered a “front door” to Pitt in the community, the purpose of the CEC is to expand outreach and educational opportunities within local neighborhoods and better the lives of children and families. The Homewood 10,000-square-foot facility, according to Kathy Humphrey, PhD, the university’s vice chancellor for engagement and secretary of the Board of Trustees, is the first of many that will be constructed throughout the city, with the next CEC slated for the Hill District.
Daren Ellerbee will serve as the Homewood CEC director. Ellerbee said the best way to get involved with center activities throughout the week is to visit www.cec.pitt.edu. “All are welcome,” she said. “Come take a tour and find out how to leverage the space and take advantage of the many offerings.”
The location of the Homewood CEC was once part of a thriving business corridor. Proposed offerings of the CEC will run from summer science camps and an after-school program to career development opportunities and job fairs. It will also be home to a study of the beneficial effects of African dance, culture and music classes. The Pitt-Assisted Communities and Schools program, based in Pitt’s School of Social Work, will have dedicated space inside the center, and the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, part of Pitt’s Innovation Institute, will provide business development consultation on-site. Neighborhood Legal Services also is housed in the building. Gallery space for local artists’ work and curated exhibits is an addition to the center. A wall in the lower level currently is dedicated to a youth project, a result of the summer Learn and Earn Program hosted by Homewood Children’s Village.
A vibrant hub with dedicated spaces for partnerships and programs, rooms include first floor and lower level conference rooms, a science and computer lab, seminar and class rooms, a small kitchen area and an open space lobby.
Zina Scott, an active Homewood resident, told the Courier she felt like “Pitt has not always been our best neighbor. They have a lot of students from outside the city but not a lot of minorities. Their impact of recruiting within minority communities over the years has not been that great.”
With possible gentrification occurring in Homewood, Scott wanted to be sure that Pitt isn’t coming into the community now just for the perceived benefits of gentrification. Scott was part of a 31-member advisory council of community leaders, entrepreneurs and residents who worked with Pitt on the formation of the CEC.
Minority and Women Business Enterprise participation in the buildout of the facility was also important, Humphrey said. “Building a strong culture of diversity and inclusion is important to us, so it was very significant that we use contactors and sub-contractors that reflected the community. It’s another way of building and strengthening partnerships. My greatest hope is that we don’t just do it for this project but that we have assisted the sub-contractors in learning how to do work with Pitt which will enable them to get more work with the university.” Reports stated that Pitt reached a 40 percent MWBE participation rate and 37 percent minority labor rate in this project. The Waller Corporation was the prime contractor, with other businesses including MA’AT Construction Group, J&S Handyman Services, All Systems Inc. and Nexus Construction. Graphics 22 Signs and Franco Associates were WBE contractors.
Viewing CECs as an expansion of Pitt’s ongoing neighborhood commitment to strengthen communities and the university through long-term partnerships, Humphrey noted that Pitt has made a minimum 15-year commitment to the Homewood site. The Oct. 18 ribbon-cutting was for phase one of the CEC, with phase two, the wellness center and display kitchen projected for next year.
“We are very excited about the CEC and what it brings to the community as well as what the community brings to us,” Humphrey said. “We have worked and planned and prayed for this day. It’s like standing in our dreams.”
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