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March 3, 2005

Pitt Reinvigorates Oldest Community Outreach Program

Pitt’s oldest community outreach program, established more than 35 years ago to counter neighborhood objections to the University’s construction projects in the Allequippa Terrace area (now Oak Hill), is being re-invigorated, Pitt officials said.

The community leisure-learn program, housed in the education school’s Department of Health and Physical Activity, is expanding its reach into the community, according to newly hired director Martha J. Pristas and John Wilds, Pitt’s director of community relations.

Pristas and Wilds reported on the program’s initiatives, new and old, at the University Senate community relations committee meeting Feb. 16.

One new initiative of note to Pitt faculty and students, Pristas said, is an effort to expand internship opportunities in the surrounding areas. “Student internship opportunities which focus on health, recreation or wellness are being developed with the local community agencies and institutions,” she said.

Already on board as partners are Breachmenders, Housing Unlimited, the BJWL (Beverly Jewel Wall Lovelace) after-school program, the Collegiate YMCA, the community human service after-school program, Hill House Association, Generations Together and Peoples Oakland. On board at Pitt are the athletics department, the dance program and others, she added.

“The agencies are appreciative of our efforts,” Pristas noted. “It’s also win-win for the students who get to interact with a diverse population from the community while learning ‘on the job.'”

Pristas said the leisure-learn program originated as an offshoot of Pitt’s offering area residents use of some of the recreational facilities in Trees Hall, Fitzgerald Field House and the Cost Center.

“Over 35 years ago, when the University took over the land that Trees Hall is built on, the University thought it wise to collaborate with the residents and to offer a service to use the facility,” Pristas said. “It started with the guest pass program, which continues today. We have over 200 guest passes issued currently.”

Locals must prove residency in either the 15213 (Oakland) zip code area or in the 15219 (Hill District) area to qualify, she said. They are issued photo I.D.s (which are not honored for riding Port Authority vehicles or other Pitt programs, but are specific to this program); they have an orientation period, and then are eligible to use the gymnasium, pool and weight room at Trees Hall during certain hours.

Other initiatives include:

* The National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) summer camp program, a federally funded program run at more than 200 universities nationally.

“This NYSP is open to youths ages 10-16, to learn about various sports, both traditional and non-traditional,” Pristas said. “It’s also a personal enrichment and educational program, where kids learn about sportsmanship, drug and alcohol prevention, health and nutrition, disease prevention, even career opportunities.”

The five-week summer camp typically enrolls about 250 kids, with 30-50 percent of them returning the following year, she said.

“During the camp, we have economically disadvantaged kids from all over the city Monday-Friday running around up there in the Cost Center and the Field House, having a great time,” Pristas said. “We have the [physical education] instructors from the local schools involved and we’re trying to get our students in the Department of Health and Physical Activity more involved.”

* The Saturday youth recreation program offered at Trees Hall free of charge to local area youths ages 6-16.

“This is new in that it used to be just swimming and basketball. Now, we have instruction and activities in dance and martial arts, and other sports mini-camps,” Pristas said. “One part of it is called ‘Saturday’s kids,’ for 6-12-year-olds. Our instructors are students from the dance program, from athletics. The chancellor has encouraged our student-athletes to perform community service as part of their experience at the University. We have players from the baseball team, the volleyball team, the soccer team, including some of the coaches who have participated, as well as faculty, staff and students from the Department of Health and Physical Activity.”

According to Wilds, “Over the last year we looked at the program and came to the conclusion that the program was on the decline and needed to be re-invigorated. We did an exhaustive search and identified Marti [Pristas] as the person to lead us out of the wilderness, so to speak. So far, she’s done a great job initiating new programs and restoring that program to the point where it would be recognized nationally, as a model for University-community outreach efforts. I think we’re on our way.”

Wilds said the University’s commitment going back 35-plus years to the Allequippa Terrace neighborhood was motivated in part by a combination of the density of the population and the dearth of recreational avenues.

“From the beginning, the School of Education has continued to provide funding for the program,” he said, which he predicted would continue. “The only thing that could happen is if the city offered these programs somewhere else for us to get relief from that commitment. That hasn’t happened and I don’t think anybody ever expected that to happen. So we continue the program, and we should because we are part of a neighborhood.”

The community leisure-learn program is developing a web site. Pitt faculty are encouraged to contact Pristas regarding internship opportunities for their students. For more information, contact Pristas at: 412/648-8278; e-mail:

-Peter Hart

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