Students help greater Pittsburgh community through Civic Action Week


Image via Aimee Obidzinski, University of Pittsburgh

Pitt undergraduates Arabella Johnson and Brianna Raskin (left) and graduate student Jinghang Li (right) help with gardening at Duncan Park in Lawrenceville on Saturday.

By Donata Massimiani, Staff Writer

When Garima Patel first came to Pitt, she only participated in community service to fill her resumé. But she said service soon became a way for her to help herself and others grow as people.

“As I got more involved with Pitt Serves and the different opportunities they gave us, I was able to see and learn more about civic engagement,” Patel, a senior bioengineering major, said. “I wanted to be a part of that process.”

PittServes, the Office of Engagement and Community Affairs and the Signature Days of Service Committee organized Civic Action Week, which ran from Oct. 4 to Oct. 9. Focused on civic engagement and serving the different communities around Pittsburgh, Civic Action Week is an annual event that features in-person volunteering, donation drives and a series of workshops.

Service events and opportunities are divided into six different categories, according to the Civic Action Week website. The categories include community engaged learning and research, community organizing and activism, direct service, philanthropy, policy/governance and social entrepreneurship/corporate social responsibility. 

Civic Action Week began in 2019 and replaced Pitt Make a Difference Day. PMADD was the biggest day of service on Pitt’s campus for 13 years, according to Jade Chang, a member of the SDOS committee for the past three years and former PMADD chair.

Despite this history, Chang, a senior public and professional writing major, said attendance numbers dropped and students were not as excited for PMADD as they used to be, due to repetitive annual events. To combat this, SDOS rebranded PMADD and turned it into Civic Action Week.

“The idea is that now every year there are a whole bunch of different events people can participate in throughout the week with a bunch of different topics,” Chang said. “We have lecture speakers, workshops and of course our in-person service day. We expanded to be more inclusive of other types of civic engagement.”

An important aspect of Civic Action Week is the in-person service where students sign up for a project and volunteer for four hours at one of the community partner sites, according to Chang. 

“It’s a tradition here on Pitt’s campus, having the in-person service day,” Chang said. “We now allow students to pick their projects, and we list all the projects that are going to be available on the Saturday of Civic Action Week.”

Sydney Muhando, a junior pharmacy student, volunteered for in-person service and worked on a project cleaning up part of Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood. Muhando said doing service is something that can help her in her future career.

“Seeing that I’m in school for pharmacy, I’m going to be a health care provider and work with people in the community,” Muhando said. “Getting comfortable being in different environments was something I was looking forward to doing when participating in the civic action project.”

Muhando said she arrived at the William Pitt Union on Saturday morning to begin her day of service. After acquiring a T-shirt provided by organizers, she got on a bus and headed to Homewood.

“When we arrived, there was a tent and the leader of the area informed us of what we were going to do,” Muhando said. “We signed a waiver and form, put on orange vests and gloves and were given trash bags. They said we’d be picking up any trash we saw and make the place look better.”

Patel became involved with SDOS her sophomore year and is now the community partner liaison for Civic Action Week

“With Civic Action Week, we hope students are gaining a better understanding of engagement as a whole and how they can really contribute to society after leaving Pitt,” Patel said. 

Patel said switching from PMADD to Civic Action Week gave students many more types of engagement through speaker sessions, drives, DIYs and direct service. 

“With PMADD, there was just one day of direct service where people went in, did their service for a few hours, came back and that was it. There was no further engagement past that,” Patel said. “With Civic Action Week, you get many different types of service. It allows students to engage with the community partners more through those different opportunities.”

Chang formerly worked as a writer at The Pitt News.