Initiatives to Empower Volunteerism, Professional Development Launching

Two people in blue shirts handle groceriesOpportunities for students, faculty and staff to reach out, give back and grow continue to increase over the weeks since the University began responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group of students in the School of Medicine have been delivering critical medications to those who cannot leave their homes. Carrie Benson, prevention and education coordinator in the Title IX Office in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, organized a friendly toast among her neighbors in Aspinwall—socially distanced on their front porches, of course. And Carla Chugani, assistant professor of pediatrics at Pitt Med and Dormont resident, has been running a food pantry from her front porch to provide child-friendly staples and basic goods to community members in need.

“We appreciate how the Pitt community continues to pursue our institutional goal of strengthening communities as we transition from the familiar communal environment of our campuses to working and interacting remotely from our individual homes,” said Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for engagement and secretary of the board of trustees.

Several new initiatives are rolling out this week to help members of the University discover volunteer opportunities with community organizations and provide eligible staff members approved work time for such service activities. Additionally, the University is enhancing online professional development programming and create new and meaningful opportunities for staff and department success.

Approved volunteer service hours

How to get started:

For staff and faculty:

  • Staff members should discuss their interest in volunteering time with their supervisors to ensure all University business needs are met. Once obtaining approval from their supervisor, staff members who volunteer their time should classify these hours as “approved absence” hour type and add a comment to read: “VOL COVID-19” on their timecards in PRISM.
  • OHR’s Faculty and Staff Development Program will be going online this season. The schedule of workshops and seminars will be available in the coming weeks.

Humphrey and David DeJong, vice chancellor for human resources, announced the creation of a plan to encourage staff members to work with their supervisors and department administrators to request up to eight hours from their weekly work schedule to complete a volunteer service opportunity of their choosing. (For details about getting started, see the sidebar.) Students and faculty may volunteer as many hours as their time and inclination allow.

Pitt Pandemic Service Initiative launches

To help provide meaningful and turnkey experiences for University employees and community organizations in need of University assistance, the Office of Community and Governmental Relations is working to make community engagement during this time simple. Working closely with community partners and the Office of PittServes, School of Social Work, Graduate School of Public Health, University Library System and Pitt Information Technology, CGR has assembled an array of ways for faculty, staff and students to get involved.

The initiative, called the Pitt Pandemic Service Initiative, lays out opportunities to provide volunteer service, donate durable goods or food and share informational resources with neighbors and the broader public, said Lina Dostilio, associate vice chancellor for community engagement.

Opportunities are open to all students, faculty and staff and the initiative will extend throughout the time that the University remains at its current level of pandemic response. Volunteer opportunities include work that can be done remotely from home and in-person while maintaining CDC social distancing recommendations.

Examples of some of the high-priority needs that will be filled through the initiative include:

  • Assisting various community organizations to offer relevant supports and services by phone to the individuals and families they serve during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Packaging and delivery of meals and produce at local neighborhood distribution points in partnership with social service agencies.
  • Standing up a volunteer-staffed virtual/phone IT help desk that is open to the public and community-based organizations.
  • Computer refurbishment on machines to be distributed to families currently without technology.

“The University is confronting this crisis on all fronts—leveraging our research, our facilities, our ability to serve. We can all play a part: Now is the time we roll up our sleeves and double down on what it means to be a University of the community,” said Dostilio.

“The change has been daunting, but we thank you for rising to the challenge and forging ahead into our new, and temporary, reality,” Humphrey said.

CGR is encouraging staff and faculty to share news of the initiative with community organizations they work with. A web form has been created for organizations to inquire about being included as a community partner.

Internal projects and professional development opportunities

At the same time that the Pitt Pandemic Volunteer Initiative is launching, DeJong and his team have been developing ways for human resources partners across the University—including heads of responsibility centers and directors of administration—to leverage opportunities presented as part of the modified distance learning and remote work stature the University has taken.

“It has been evident that every unit of the Pitt community remains committed to the University and to strengthening the relationships that have been built among faculty, staff and students,” said DeJong.

For some teams, the recent changes in business operations may mean that some employees need help finding tasks that may not be part of a normal week while in the office or on campus. The Office of Human Resources (OHR) is encouraging partners to be open-minded and creative, said DeJong.

In a memo to HR partners, DeJong shared examples for how thinking outside the box might look:

  • Encouraging and helping to coordinate professional development such as cross-training, certification and continuing education credits for employees.
  • Enabling eligible staff requests for volunteer service like with the Pitt Pandemic Service Initiative.
  • Reviewing OHR’s resources, tips and guides for managing and engaging remote workers.

Additionally, DeJong’s team is coordinating a process by which departments can request extra help with special internal projects. Despite most of the staff population working remotely at this time, efforts can be coordinated so that everyone continues to be able to do productive work and contribute to the University’s mission, said DeJong.

DeJong, Poet Laureate Emeritus of the Year of Humanities and enthusiastic haiku poet, penned a poem about service and support to share with the Pitt community:

“Meet the call for help
Support the community
Stronger together.”

“Many of our skills are transferrable and, now more than ever, we are called to think outside the box to discover how we can utilize those skills to better work together,” he said. “This is the time to do what we may not have had time to do before. Cross items off your wish list, start those new or long-lost initiatives and forge ahead.”

“The needs of our entire Pitt community may grow at an exponential rate during this pandemic, so our service is needed now more than ever,” said Humphrey. “We invite all staff and faculty to be a part of Pitt’s history of service and to consider supporting this effort in the weeks and months to come.”