South O block party helps students, Oakland residents bond


John Blair | Staff Photographer

The Be a Good Neighbor program hosts block parties at the start of every academic year to foster connections between the University and its Oakland neighbors. The first block party of the year was held Tuesday evening at the Dan Marino Field in South Oakland.

By Julia DiPietro, Staff Writer

Oakland isn’t just home to Pitt students — the University is located in a tightly-knit neighborhood of permanent residents with a rich history. 

Pitt’s Office of Community and Governmental Relations strives to bring Oakland residents and Pitt students together through its Be A Good Neighbor program. This program is known for kicking off the academic year with a series of welcome back block parties.

The Be A Good Neighbor program hosted community block parties during the month of September for almost 10 years. This is just one of the office’s many initiatives to solidify a bond between Oakland residents and Pitt students.

Alex Toner, assistant director of community engagement, said these block parties are a years-long tradition in the neighborhood. It brings everyone together at the beginning of the year to celebrate, according to Toner.

“The block parties have been going on for about eight to 10 years now and they’re something that the neighbors look forward to,” Toner said. “We think our students on and off campus look forward to a signature event to kick off the year in the neighborhood and with the community we value so much.”

Students and Oakland natives enjoyed the kickoff block party on Tuesday in South Oakland at the Dan Marino Field & Frazier Field House from 5 to 7 p.m. The second party will take place in Central Oakland on Thursday, to be followed by others in north and west Oakland. Each party will have different food trucks, desserts, music and raffles.

About 40 participants of students, staff and South Oakland residents attended the first event. People engaging in conversation filled the grass, eating tacos from the food truck, walking their dogs and enjoying the warm weather.

Kenyon Bonner, vice provost for student affairs, said Be A Good Neighbor’s key commitment is to encourage respect and a sense of community throughout the neighborhood.

“The goal for the block party is to reinforce the understanding that we are a part of the Oakland community and Pitt is sitting in a neighborhood where people have been living for decades. It’s really important for us to have a relationship with the community,” Bonner said. “I think this type of event brings people together to meet each other and understand each other, and create this community understanding that we’re all working together.”

The Be A Good Neighbor program offers lots of opportunities to get involved, such as volunteer services, block parties, community meetings and Adopt a Block neighborhood clean up programs. Pitt Community and Governmental Relations uses these initiatives to encourage students to interact with and be kind to their neighbors, said Lina Dostilio, vice chancellor for engagement and community affairs.

“Building relationships is critical, to be a good neighbor you have to know your neighbors. What better way to do that than to have some food, talk and introduce yourself? That’s the best way to build community,” Dostilio said.

Toner said students living off campus should engage more with the people around them, and treat the neighborhood less like somewhere you live and more like a place you can contribute to in the long run.

“There are many ways to get involved. Going to community meetings and understanding what’s happening and affecting the neighborhood where you live,” Toner said. “Volunteer through the office of Pitt Serves, there’s a lot of ways to advance your learning of the civic community through the University and through the neighborhood.”

According to Bonner, the Be A Good Neighbor program is a useful asset in building a stronger community in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it helps the residents of Oakland live harmoniously among one another.

Bonner said encouraging interactions and respect among the two groups is an important part of building a community bond.

“This is how the Be A Good Neighbor campaign came to be. We are not alone, we need to do things like these block parties, to get students to meet their neighbors who are not students, the permanent residents,” said Bonner. “It creates a more permanent bond and understanding.” 

Bonner said he is proud of the participation and positivity shown by the students and members of the Oakland community this fall, especially after community engagement was put on pause for months during the pandemic.

“It’s good to be back on campus, it’s great to see so many students out and about and it feels like the Pitt that we all know and love,” Bonner said. “I’m looking forward to a great semester and I really appreciate for the students continuing to cooperate with us and be a good neighbor.”