Social Work Endowment for COSA Students Fund


The University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work will grow its Social Work Endowment for COSA Students in memory of the late Emeritus Professor James V. Cunningham as a tribute to the importance of community organizing and community work in society, which he embodied. Dr. Cunningham established the fund in 2006 to recognize and support students in community organizing work that engages community constituencies and represents the knowledge, values, and skills of community practice that the School of Social Work espouses.


The goal of the campaign is to grow the Endowed Fund from $35,000 to $150,000 through leadership gifts from key constituencies across the region and through tiered gifts from former students, colleagues, and friends of Jim Cunningham and his community and neighborhood organization legacy.

Impact of the Endowed Fund

The purpose of the Social Work Endowment for COSA Students is to generate resource funds to provide support to students who exemplify and hold promise for strong professional practice as community organizers. If the fund grows to $150,000, it will distribute more than $6,000 annually to the COSA program students in perpetuity. This meaningful distribution would have tremendous impact on:

the competitiveness and prestige of the program’s student recruitment and retention and

the program’s ability to partner with community organizations that most need the assistance

As home to the first and longest-standing community organization program in the county, the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work is ranked in the top 5% of schools of social work. The increased resource support to the COSA program and its community practice award will enhance the prestige of the program and will attract a competitive cadre of the best community organizing students in the country.

The COSA program aims to partner with community organizing groups across the region. Often, the organizing groups that need the most assistance can’t access capable resources. The enhanced support to the Endowed Fund would allow the school to place students with community organizations that are doing good work but could benefit greatly from adding motivated talent. All the while, students will gain strong grassroots experiences and opportunities for success to help shape their future career as they help build capacity of community-based organizations.

How to make your gift

  1. Online through Pitt’s secure Giving site.
  2. Via phone by calling Tony Gacek, SSW Director of Constituent Relations at 412-624-8604
  3. Send contribution made payable to the “University of Pittsburgh”* to:

School of Social Work
c/o Tony Gacek
2117 Cathedral of Learning
4200 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

*please indicate “In Memory of Jim Cunningham” in the memo line

Why Recognize Jim Cunningham?

When one looks at the growth of neighborhood and community organization in Pittsburgh and across the country, Jim Cunningham has played a prominent role. Among his noted accomplishments:

  • Worked with ACTION-Housing and the Ford Foundation to establish a foundation for Pittsburgh’s War on Poverty program and neighborhood organizations
  • Helped establish the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Alliance as a city-wide coalition and advocacy organization to advance Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods and community-based organizations.
  • Co-founded the National Association of Neighborhoods
  • Helped publish the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Atlas, the city’s first compendium of profiles on Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods
  • Chaired the Home Rule Study Commission, bringing Home Rule to the City of Pittsburgh.
  • Chaired the Democratic Party 7th Ward, helping to elect Richard Caliguiri as Mayor of Pittsburgh
  • Led the River Communities Study Project which helped the region understand the impact of industrial collapse on communities, families, children, minorities, and the elderly, which led to efforts like the Aliquippa Alliance for Unity and Development and the Mon Valley Initiative
  • Authored/co-authored several go-to books on neighborhood and community development, including: Building Neighborhood Organizations (with Milton Kotler), Organizing for Community Controlled Development (with Patricia Watkins Murphy), The Resurgent Neighborhood (Fides,1965), Urban Leadership During the Sixties, A New Public Policy for Neighborhood Preservation (with Roger Ahlbrandt),
  • Established the African American Community Builders training program for minority grassroots leadership development. Later helped establish the Regional Coalition of Community Builders in Southwest PA and an expanded Community Builders training program at the School.
  • Received the Career Achievement Award from the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA), a national organization to advance community practice education and scholarship within social work
  • Established an MSW exchange program that brought over two dozen students from Ireland to study at the School of Social Work, many of whom stayed and made significant contributions to our city and region, leading major community development projects and organizations
  • Taught, cultivated, and mentored a cadre of young professionals who have made major regional, national and international impacts in community organizing and development
  • Worked tirelessly to advance racial justice and equity through his leadership within the Catholic Diocese and its Race and Reconciliation initiative that he championed

Jim Cunningham left a lasting legacy from community organizing and neighborhood development at the School of Social Work, in the Pittsburgh region, across the country, and around the world. Supporting the Social Work Endowment for COSA Students fund recognizes Jim’s legacy, celebrates his community practice contributions through his teaching, research, and service, and supports the next generation of social work community organization social action leaders who will solve society’s tough social justice challenges.