Zack Block, a life-long Pittsburgher, is the Director of Repair the World: Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that offers volunteer opportunities tailored to meet local needs. Zack is also Board Chair of the Hillel Jewish University Center, and sits on the advisory committee of the Neighborhood Learning Alliance and the board of The Documentary Works.
First job out of college?
My first job out of college was working for what was Mellon Financial which is now the Bank of New York Mellon. I was a Portfolio Administrator, which means that I assisted people who managed high net worth individuals’ money.
How were you drawn to nonprofit work?
I was a tax attorney for more than 8 years and in reality it was a combination of opportunity and inertia that led me to that role and kept me there. For a long time though I wasn’t happy and I looked at a few things that made me happy while trying to determine what to do next. The first was my family, which I love and they are so supportive of me. The second was my volunteering. I spent a lot of time volunteering in the community and it was incredibly fulfilling work. Those two things are what really drove me to look for work in the nonprofit world.
First thing you do each day?
I am lucky enough to help get my kids ready for school and have breakfast with them. In my old work that wasn’t the norm. After I usually take one of them to school and my wife takes the other one then I head to our workshop. I open up the space and make coffee and heat up water for tea for the fellows when we all get together to meet in the mornings at 9a.m. and really get started on the cohort’s day.
What keeps you motivated?
What really keeps me going is that I believe in the work that we’re doing. We work in both education and food justice and in bringing the Jewish community to this work. We believe that change can occur from either a top down or a bottom up perspective and the work that we do is much more geared to the bottom up perspective. So, for example, our fellows mentor in after school programs and then recruit others to mentor in these after school programs as well. This idea of building a partner’s capacity so that it can carry out its missions more efficiently and effectively also really keeps me going.
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Collaboration is the key to success. I don’t remember who shared that with me but I truly believe in collaboration. If you partner and collaborate with good people who are doing good things then only more good can come from it.
What are you reading?
I’m currently reading Robert Putnam’s latest book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. I’m reading it with my Repair the World counterparts in Philadelphia and Detroit. The book examines the growing inequality gap in the U.S.
What is one goal that you hope to accomplish in 2015?
I really want to work to start the process aimed at making Repair the World a sustainable program in Pittsburgh.
Best thing about the nonprofit sector in Pittsburgh?
It’s such a collaborative atmosphere. I love collaboration and working with and meeting so many people and individuals who are interested in what we’re doing and how we can and do work together. It’s amazing!
What does Repair the World have coming up this spring?
We have a litter program called Pitch In to Pitch In that we’re kicking off on Friday, March 27 with a dinner. We still have spots open for volunteers on Sunday, March 28.