Building community, helping neighbors, still central as Repair the World Pittsburgh turns 10
Repair the World10th anniversary

Building community, helping neighbors, still central as Repair the World Pittsburgh turns 10

A decade after opening in Pittsburgh, organization's staff and volunteers look back on efforts to repair

Participants enjoy pizza and a Lag Ba'Omer program with Repair the World Pittsburgh.  Photo courtesy of Repair the World Pittsburgh
Participants enjoy pizza and a Lag Ba'Omer program with Repair the World Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Repair the World Pittsburgh

Ten years in Pittsburgh have resulted in thousands of weeds pulled, liters of blood donated and items of clothing donated. As Repair the World Pittsburgh marks its 10th anniversary, those involved with the service organization looked back on its ability to build community and advance its members’ growth.

Jodi Salant moved to Pittsburgh in 2013 to participate in the organization’s first cohort. Through her work as a full-time fellow, Salant aided local nonprofits, including Catapult Greater Pittsburgh (formerly Circles Greater Pittsburgh), an organization committed to economic justice and equitability.

Ten years later, Salant, 32, is Catapult’s director of innovation and growth.

“Repair gave me professional connections and professional experience that led to my current role,” she said.

As much as Salant has grown during the past decade, Repair has too, she said.

The organization is a powerful vehicle for the Jewish community and Pittsburgh’s young Jews, Salant noted. Through its focus on empowering local service organizations, Repair is helping “build community in Pittsburgh.”

Jules Mallis, Repair’s executive director, credited Annie Dunn, a senior program associate at the organization, with bolstering those relationships.

Throughout the fall and spring, Dunn is responsible for “supporting 14 service partners by pairing 36 immersive service volunteers to complete direct service of five to 10 hours per week,” Mallis said.

Pairing individuals with local nonprofits — to help the latter fulfill their missions — is one means of boosting Pittsburgh. Bringing young people together is another.

Volunteers from Repair the World, Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh, The Branch, Hillel at Pitt, University of Pittsburgh’s Chabad on Campus and Chabad Young Professionals undertake seed-starting and sign painting to benefit the Sheridan Avenue Orchard and Garden. Photo courtesy of Repair the World Pittsburgh

In honor of Lag Ba’Omer, a minor Jewish holiday typically celebrated with outdoor gatherings, RTW teamed up with Kesher Pittsburgh and PJ Library to host family-friendly garden games and a bonfire at the Sheridan Avenue Orchard and Garden. Participants enjoyed pizza, roasted kosher vegan marshmallows and heard a story about the springtime holiday.

Michael Kirshenbaum, 33, said he often attends Repair gatherings.

Whether it’s different volunteer projects or gardening at the Sheridan Avenue Orchard, Repair events serve a vital need, he said.

“Repair is a good place to volunteer and connect with people of the community — Jews and non-Jews — to get together, and connect, and volunteer and achieve a greater goal at hand.”

Caleb LaBelle, 31, agreed, and said the organization has been a space to enjoy Shabbat and holiday dinners, as well as a mechanism for volunteering.

“It’s fun to get out and see and talk to different people in the community that you may not see on a regular basis,” LaBelle said.

Weeks ago, LaBelle attended a Repair-hosted clothing swap at Trace Brewing in Bloomfield. The program resulted in more than 1,200 items either swapped or donated to True T Pittsburgh, a community arts and wellness center dedicated to supporting Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ+ community.

Whatever the event, LaBelle said, Repair finds a way to bring its “values into a community setting.”

“Repair is a community-first organization that’s there for members across many different demographics, and there to help in the community in any way,” he said.

What’s also great about Repair, LaBelle continued, is that the organization is driven by Jewish roots.

Since its national founding in 2009 — Pittsburgh’s branch was launched four years later — Repair has worked to “make volunteer service a defining element of American Jewish life,” according to the organization. As a result, thousands of young adults have engaged in “meaningful service opportunities infused with Jewish values and learning that help make the world a better place.”

Repair the World Pittsburgh volunteers inoculate logs on Oct. 23. Photo courtesy of Repair the World Pittsburgh

Sarah E. Scherk was drawn to that mission eight years ago. At the time, she was living in Southern California.

She decided to undertake a Repair fellowship in Pittsburgh in 2015 and has called the city home ever since.

“Repair the World brought me to Pittsburgh and forced me to focus on relationship-building,” Scherk said. “Through the volunteer work, event planning, networking and getting me out into the Jewish community, that’s how I started to build the relationships that made me want to stay in Pittsburgh.”

Following her initial involvement with Repair, Scherk, 30, returned as a service corps member last fall. Both opportunities have enabled her to watch the Pittsburgh branch and national organization evolve; and though she said she’s kept a “critical eye” on both, Scherk praised the Pittsburgh group — particularly because of its “incredibly thoughtful and important work organizing service in the wake of the Tree of Life massacre.”

The service and action projects run by Repair annually — including blood drives, book-packing and public cleanups — not only “honor the passions and causes” of those murdered in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting but allow the community to “confront the trauma” in a safe and meaningful way, she said.

In the weeks leading to last year’s commemoration of the attack, Dunn told the Chronicle that Repair worked with the 10.27 Healing Partnership and those principally affected by the shooting to organize service opportunities honoring the “commitments, passions and service” that each of the 11 people who died expressed throughout their lifetimes.

Programs like these demonstrate Repair isn’t just a tool for bringing people to Pittsburgh but encourages them to stay, Scherk said.

It might not be as “prominent to the Jewish community as a synagogue, or the Federation or the JCC,” but Repair is aiding countless people during some of the toughest times in Pittsburgh, she continued.

“Every year in late October, I know I will be engaging in service with Repair,” Scherk said. “That’s something I need. I need to do something to remember. And this is a very intentional and lovingly thought out way to do what matters and something good in the Jewish community.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at



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