Pittsburgh Changemaker: Zack Block
By Trevor Miles
Kelly Strayhorn Theater is presenting local leaders that have been changemakers in Pittsburgh. Mentors, teachers, artists— KST acknowledges these pioneers. This is Our Story: KST Recognizes Pittsburgh Changemakers.
Zack Block, Director. Photos Courtesy of Repair the World: Pittsburgh
1- What do you do for the community now and why is it important?
I am the Director of Repair the World: Pittsburgh. At Repair the World, we aim to mobilize thousands of young Jewish adults who want to help improve lives and neighborhoods through volunteering and building capacity with existing organizations serving in these neighborhoods. ‘Repair the World’ is an English translation of the Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam, which some say is the very foundation of Jewish tradition: the responsibility we have to transform and repair the world around us. Each issue and community is unique so we connect our volunteers to top community partners, who know their stuff through and through. We also connect our volunteers to each other, providing space and a forum to reflect on service and how it relates to Jewish identity.
2- What is one defining moment of your life? (When you decided to do what you’re doing now).
This is a great question. I spent more than eight years as a tax attorney and towards the end of my time in that role I was finishing a meeting with a client and I just realized that I wasn’t happy with what I was doing in the world and the example that I was setting. Fortunately, I have an incredible family and my wife was very supportive of me making a change. I also volunteered a lot and aside from my family it was the most meaningful part of my life. I decided to move into the non profit world and as I was networking and trying to find the right opportunity, Repair the World came to town to meet with a lot of the same people that I was meeting. Repair wanted to know if it started a program in Pittsburgh, would the community support the organization. I was put in touch with the people from Repair through our mutual network and the rest is history. It was meant to be!
3- What advice do you have for youth that want to become a changemaker in their community?
I love the youth movement in Pittsburgh! If you want to be a changemaker in this community around issues like poverty, education, or food security then I truly believe that you need to work in the system from a bottom up approach. You need to volunteer and get to know how to make a real impact locally. The top down approach, which in my mind is more geared towards advocacy in the world of government and politics, is not where things get done quickly. So, in my opinion, the process of being a changemaker starts with working in the local community to support local initiatives and can progress to advocacy work on a macro level after the micro experiences.
4- What is a song on your playlist? (A song that motivates and drives you).
Another great question! I used to listen to a lot more of my music before I had kids then I do now, but Just Breathe by Pearl Jam is always on my playlist.