Repair the World fellows stand with raised garden beds they built for the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry.

Ask Zack Block to explain Repair the World: Pittsburgh and he might compare it to AmeriCorps, but only at first.

“Like AmeriCorps, we have fellows working in direct service at various community organizations,” says Block, the program’s director. “The similarities pretty much end there.”

When Repair the World, a New York-based organization designed to engage Jewish young adults in direct service projects, started planning its Repair Communities initiative six years ago, it considered 80 cities as potential pilot locations for the program. Ultimately, it chose five: Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City and Pittsburgh.

Now the program, which is just finishing up its first year in the city, will move into its first permanent headquarters in the space at 6022 Broad Street in East Liberty and celebrate with an all-day open house party this Sunday, June 15, from noon to 6 p.m., followed by a happy hour at nearby Harvard & Highland.

“We want to showcase the space and let people know that we’re here and that we want to be a part of the community,” Block says.

Repair the World: Pittsburgh has nine full-time fellows this year and a slate of at least 10 set to start in the fall. While RTW is nominally a Jewish organization, its focus on social justice draws applicants from across the cultural spectrum. One of its goals is to have both Jewish and non-Jewish fellows, as well as an equal mix of native Pittsburghers and transplants.

RTW fellows divide their service time between at least two placements where AmeriCorps volunteers have just one. On top of the required hours, RTW asks its fellows to build and mobilize groups of volunteers to work on larger volunteer projects within the community, creating both a sustainable direct service organization and a static base of community volunteers.

“We saddle our fellows with an extra component doing engagement, building and community organizing,” Block says. “There’s no one program addressing both sides of volunteer service like we are.”

Fellows are accepted on a rolling basis and earn a monthly stipend of $600, plus an additional $1,000 honorarium upon completing the program. The organization provides its fellows with communal housing and basic necessities.

The program has fellows working on seven different projects across three organizations, including the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry and the refugee resettlement programs under Jewish Family and Children’s Services, and the housing, hunger services and after-school programs within East End Cooperative Ministries. RTW fellows are also working with the Higher Achievement program in Homewood’s Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School.

Block says the organization is looking to add even more partners in the hope of drawing out volunteers in greater numbers.

“We’re looking to shake up this model a bit because the direct service aspect worked reasonably well, but the volunteer recruitment side can do better,” he says. “We’re also doing five events this month, including a book club meeting, a movie night and a clothing swap, and the themes around these are social-justice-related, so we’re looking to have dialogue around social justice topics at these events.”

“We want people to see that, to start to get to know the fellows and to become engaged with volunteering and Repair the World.”

For more information on Repair the World’s grand opening event, check out its Facebook page.

Matthew Wein

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all...