When participants in Public Allies Pittsburgh's ten-month apprenticeship program graduate on June 29, it will be with more than pleasant memories of the Steel City.
As the program is designed to develop the next generation of civic leaders, the graduates will also be leaving knowing quite a bit about civic participation.
"It was amazing to see different South Side groups come together so enthusiastically to support our service project. It's great to see community members become stakeholders and organizations become partners.
"It was the ultimate goal of the project -- that, and providing a foundation for young people in the South Side to grow food," said apprentice Mary Kate Marasco.
She was referring to the youth summer gardening program at Bandi Shaum Field organized by the "Healthy Futures" team she was a member of.
It was one of three Public Allies' teams which undertook service projects starting in April that were aimed at enhancing the quality-of-life on the South Side.
The other teams were "Economic Opportunity," which staged monthly Souper Saturdays with free food and other amenities; and "Veterans and Military Families," which hosted a barbeque in honor of service members, veterans, and their families.
A main goal of the projects was to foster connections between residents and local nonprofits, and raise awareness of existing supportive services people may not know about.
The projects had to be sustainable within the community after the 23 allies comprising the three teams graduate from the program.
The "Healthy Futures" mission was to create a sustainable summer gardening program for Voices Against Violence (VAV) at the South Side Slopes community garden at Bandi Shaum Field, 18th and Mission streets.
The non-profit VAV, begun in 1996, offers mentoring, an academic-based program, summer camps, job assistance, and more for at-risk children and young adults.
The goals of VAV's involvement are to enable behavioral change related to eating habits and food choices; to foster a strong work ethic and build skill sets; and to inspire lifelong community stewardship.
At any time, up to 15 students from Carrick High School worked in the garden.
"Our team partnered with Mr. Carrington [Richard Carrington, executive director of VAV] to get his kids involved. We created a gardening manual for them, and put together some information from Grow Pittsburgh so that VAV will continue with it," Ms. Marasco said.
Public Allies, at 33 Terminal Way in South Side, is a national movement grounded in the belief that everyone leads. Its objective is to strengthen communities, nonprofits, and individuals through civic participation.
Its signature AmeriCorps Public Allies Program prepares young adults, called allies, for leadership through nonprofit apprenticeships and leadership training.
One of the requirements is to develop sustainable community projects in partnership with local nonprofit organizations and, in the process, acquire skills and savvy regarding civic participation.
"I learned about the importance of looking at the assets that are available in a community.
"Instead of coming in and saying we think something is a good idea, our team spoke with other organizations and residents to gauge interest and solicit ideas.
"We asked the community what they wanted," said Ms. Marasco.
Other team members found the experience equally enlightening.
"I really enjoyed getting to know the community by directly talking to the residents and stakeholders on the South Side. I believe that you really get to know a community by doing this type of work, and I have a much better understanding of the neighborhood because of it.
"It was also great to be part of the community garden project and see the park's incredible transformation during our year," said Kevin Fulton.
"Working with the Slopes Association and Voices Against Violence has been an eye-opening experience on how different communities can unite for a cause that in the long run makes them both realize how important the other is," said Corey Carrington.
"It was fun getting to know the community members at the garden. Everyone is willing to help and share food! It's also cool to see all the changes in our garden from June 2 to now.
"Our zucchini and kale are flourishing!" said Dee Abasute.