Superheroes, sewing and script: Pitt clubs find creative ways to serve


Students dress up as popular cartoon and movie characters in “The Imagination Project”, a new club at Pitt. (Photo Courtesy of Allie Saltzman)

By Grant Burgman | Staff Writer

With the addition of three new service clubs at Pitt, students can dress up, write letters or sew — all while giving back to the local or international community.

These clubs offer creative alternatives to your typical volunteer opportunities, allowing students to help those in need in uncommon ways.

The Imagination Project

For anyone who’s dream is to be a superhero or Disney princess, there’s now a Pitt club that will supply you with the means to achieve it.

The Imagination Project — a new club at Pitt where students dress up as some of the most popular characters from cartoons and movies to visit patients at pediatric hospitals — is recruiting its Belles, Jasmines, Moanas, Ariels and other Disney princesses.

Joanna Anninos, a senior nursing major and one of the club’s four founders, said the group is also looking to add more superheroes to the mix.

“We do have a Spider-man costume, so we’re waiting for the right guy to come along and be our Spider-man,” Anninos said.

The club’s other three founders include: Allie Saltzman, a senior nursing major, Revu Pillai, a sophomore neuroscience major and Raksha Pothapragada, a sophomore biochemistry major.

Anninos and Saltzman — who came up with the idea for the club — experienced setbacks from the beginning. The two were inspired by a similar organization called A Moment of Magic.

Originally, Anninos and Saltzman planned to affiliate with the foundation — but that would’ve required $1,500 and have an administrator’s signature.

Anninos continued to pursue the idea, and she and Saltzman discovered that Pillai and Pothapragada were independently working to form a club with the same purpose.

“The four of us collaborated to start this crazy new project,” Anninos said.

The club has grown from the original four members to eight total members on the club’s board, and the board members anticipate a large number of new participants this year. While the club’s main focus will be hospital visits, Pillai said the club wants to broaden its charitable efforts.

A member of “The Imagination Project” speaks to a child while dressed as Belle from Beauty and the Beast. (Photo Courtesy of Allie Saltzman)

“We’re trying to add more stuff like volunteering elsewhere and maybe making care packages and stuff,” Pillai said.

Dressing up in costume isn’t the only way to help. The club is currently seeking photographers and makeup artists to join the team as well.

“Anyone who wants to be a part of this mission of ours ― we want them to help us out,” Anninos said.

Days for Girls

For students looking for an international focus, Days for Girls is a new organization on campus that serves women and girls far from Pittsburgh. Once it gets off the ground, the Pitt chapter of this international organization will assist women and girls in developing countries by providing them with reusable feminine hygiene products and access to health education.

Giovanna Guarnieri, a sophomore majoring in political science and gender, sexuality and women’s studies, is in the process of starting a chapter at Pitt and hopes to have it operating by the spring semester.

[Days for Girls is] working to raise awareness and help break the taboo surrounding menstruation in so many areas of the world,” Guarnieri said.

Days for Girls members sew the washable pads and drawstring bags, which are thrown together in a kit with washcloths, panties and other essentials and then sent out. But students lacking sewing skills shouldn’t be deterred.

“I was an intern for the Baltimore team and I have zero sewing experience at all,” Guarnieri said. “There are so many other tasks that you can do.”

In some areas of the world, young women are forced to drop out of school because of inadequate access to feminine hygiene products and poor attendance during their menstrual cycle. Guarnieri feels passionate about the mission of Days for Girls to diminish this problem.

“My goal with Days for Girls at Pitt is to educate others so they can get involved and help make a change,” Guarnieri said.

Campus Cursive

For students interested in giving back a little closer to home, they can check out Campus Cursive, a new club that spreads handwritten letters around campus for random students to pick up. The club was started by Swathi Srinivasan, a sophomore psychology and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies major as a way to uplift people through a small yet meaningful act of kindness.

“Campus Cursive is here to remind everyone of tangible acts of love — it believes in the good that exists in handwritten letters, especially in an increasingly digital age,” Srinivasan said.

Although there are several similar organizations across the country under the parent organization More Love Letters, Srinivasan found the idea for the club organically.

“Long before I knew about Campus Cursive, I wrote letters to people as my own personal remedy,” Srinivasan said. “What started out as a secret initiative my freshman year of high school turned into a small revolution by my senior year.”

The club is available for all students and Srinivasan is already planning events for the upcoming year, including a few “love letter writing parties” and an event for incoming first-year students to help welcome them to college and ease the transition.

“Hopefully with a large turnout, we’ll be able to send them to someone who has requested a love letter bundle and make his or her day,” Srinivasan said.

Srinivasan is hoping to turn what was formerly a hobby of hers into a program to benefit others.

“It’s an endeavor that requires people to connect with other people,” she said. “The time has come to spread love and letters throughout our campus community.”