One of the first events new Pitt students are encouraged to attend every fall is the volunteer fair in the William Pitt Union. Volunteer organizations from around campus set up tables to distribute information about their missions to interested students.
Wandering around the open ballroom as a first-year, Matthew Saporito discovered an organization he would eventually become president of — Pitt’s Big Brothers Big Sisters club — and along the way, learned how valuable volunteering can be for college students.
“It really shows you how lucky we are to go to Pitt. Stepping outside of that bubble and expanding your perspective is by far the most valuable thing I’ve learned from this, in my three years of Big Brother Big Sister,” Saporito said.
Saporito, now a senior majoring in marketing, spends an hour each week with his “little” — a student at Fulton Elementary School in Highland Park — playing games and building a relationship. In his time volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Saporito has come to value the relationships he’s built with his littles.
“They sometimes share a lot with you, especially as the relationships grows,” he said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is just one of a number of student volunteer organizations on campus that aim to help people locally, nationally and globally — among which are more than 35 Greek life organizations that hold fundraising and philanthropic events on campus throughout the year.
For students not involved with any particular volunteer organization, Pitt holds an annual day of volunteer service — Pitt Make a Difference Day. Last year’s PMADD saw more than 4,000 students across Pitt’s main and branch campuses contribute to volunteer projects across the country. The event is organized by Students for Civic Engagement Council and the Office of PittServes every year.
Pitt offers more local outlets for students including its Make-A-Wish chapter. Pitt’s Make-A-Wish club works closely with the national organization which aims to create life-changing experiences for children with critical illnesses.
“They can wish for almost anything they want. They can wish to be anyone, wish to go anywhere, wish to have anything, wish to meet anyone they want to and we make it happen,” Samara Silverstein, one of Make-A-Wish’s Pittsburgh Development Coordinators, said.
The club teamed up with the Chi Omega fraternity for their Believe Campaign this past year, an effort by the fraternity to promote increased fundraising and volunteering with the organization. As a part of this effort, the Pitt students filmed a promotional video for Make-A-Wish, which has yet to be released. The club hopes to make efforts to recruit more students in the coming year, as well as plan a large fundraising event.
“The hopes for it is to bring awareness about Make-A-Wish, as well as participate in volunteer opportunities through our organization, and to fundraise ultimately,” Silverstein said.
Pitt’s volunteer organizations extend far beyond the city, too. Pitt’s branch of Mary’s Meals, an international organization that provides meals to students in their place of education, is led this year by Mackenzie White, a third-year grad student studying social work and public health.
The Pitt branch branch focuses primarily on fundraising and sharing Mary’s Meals’ mission with the public through open discussions and documentary screenings, but White and Mary’s Meals will spend the next year raising money to build a kitchen in the Bvumo Primary School in Malawi.
“Mary’s Meals has a really cool way of how they let people fundraise for them. What they do is in schools they’ll create kitchens which is where they then make the meals,” White said. “Groups commit to a kitchen for a year, [and] they have to raise some money.”
So far, the club has been successful — the club estimates the money it raises in the next year will feed over 500 children for an entire year.
“It’s a really great way to get away from school a little bit and all the homework, and do something that will really make a difference in people’s lives,” White said.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story reported that Make-A-Wish helps children with terminal illnesses afford travel experiences. Make-A-Wish helps create memorable travel and non-travel experiences for children with terminal and non-terminal illnesses, regardless of family income.