Students and Oakland residents come together at The Corner


By Emma Solak / Staff Writer

During the University bomb threats of 2012, Ana Martin’s classes weren’t cancelled, but moved to The Corner.

“We came here to have class so we weren’t disrupted,” Martin, a senior neuroscience major, said about The Corner, a cafe and community center in West Oakland. 

Martin’s professor at the time, Mark Kramer, had recently moved to West Oakland and volunteered for a leadership position when he first heard about The Corner.

“I hope it becomes a voice in Pittsburgh, not just West Oakland. I hope it engages students more, as a place to get involved with the arts and social justice and to serve as a program that is dealing with issues and learn about urban issues,” Kramer, the shop’s director and a lecturer in the English Department at Pitt, said.

The coffee shop and community center, at 200 Robinson St. in West Oakland, sells coffee for $1. Martin volunteers once a week at the coffee shop, which is open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.  

In 2012, a group of Oakland community members opened the shop, which has since grown into a community center to help residents of West Oakland. Volunteers at The Corner seek to create a welcoming environment where anyone come can ask for help with whatever they may need, Kramer said.

Volunteers at The Corner aim to “improve the well-being of those in need” through assistance with needs including emergency food, job resources and youth tutoring, community outreach coordinator Juliann Hudak said.

The Corner’s outreach office features a traveling “art cart” in the Oak Hill area to provide children with a healthy and creative way to express themselves, and the Good Neighbor campaign, which is partnered with the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation and creates and distributes welcome packages to new Oakland residents.

Dollar Bank also sponsors a Home Buyer’s Workshop at The Corner to inform residents on how to build and improve credit scores and pursue home ownership, Hudak said.

The Friendship Community Presbyterian Church across the street from The Corner owns the property and retained ownership of the building after another non-profit organization moved out in 2012. 

McAuley Ministries awarded a grant to The Corner this year to help supplement the funding from Friendship Community Presbyterian Church.

Hudak said The Corner partners with programs such as the Asthma Institute, UPMC Matilda Theiss Health Center, Carlow University Sisters of Mercy and Oakland Planning and Development Corporation.

What Diane Howard, operations manager of The Corner,  really looks forward to, is the conversation — on anything from the Bible to current events or food — particularly with students.

“We talk about anything,” Howard said. “The best part is I learn so much from everyone.Young people go abroad and come back and tell stories about different cultures that I get to learn about without ever having to leave. One day I had a math kid in here fix something for me.”

Martin lives in North Oakland and said volunteering in West Oakland and meeting its residents gives her a sense of variety in her social life.

“They’re all so different, it’s a really interesting mix,” Martin said of the residents. “It’s a great place to relax and get coffee for a lower price than Starbucks or something.”

The Corner will host a forum tonight at 6:30 p.m. on child abuse and domestic violence.

This winter, The Corner will close for a few weeks to undergo renovations, Kramer said, and will soon include a larger cafe and performance area.

“My favorite part is seeing Pitt students get involved,” Kramer said. “It’s satisfying to see them leave campus and build friendships formed by people who have very different backgrounds.”