Community Corner: Making a wish come true

Friday, September 30

Making a wish come true: Sometimes words aren't needed and that was the case on Friday when 16-year-old Stacy Garnette Jr. saw Steelers running back Najee Harris coming towards him.

Garnette just had a shy smile as Harris embraced him in a hug, posed for pictures, and along with all of his teammates signed autographs for him.

Garnette, who is currently undergoing cancer treatment, was the guest of the Steelers through the Make-A-Wish Foundation at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex to watch practice and then meet some of his favorite players, Harris in particular.

"It means a lot to him after all he has been through with his cancer treatment," said his mother, Danielle Means. "It's a good day for him. He wanted to be a part of this.

"The Steelers have been his favorite team since he was little. He wanted to come to a game. I am glad he did."

Garnette had to wait a few years for the wish to be granted because of COVID protocols, but the family was happy to make the trip from Pine Ridge, South Dakota for the weekend, which will include seeing the Steelers play the New York Jets on Sunday at Acrisure Stadium.

"He wanted it for two years," said Means. "They gave him other options to do other things, but he was going to wait. It's rewarding. It's really rewarding to see him smile and be happy."

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Dinner for a cause: Running back Najee Harris hosted a dinner on Friday night to benefit his Da Bigger Picture Foundation.

Harris started the foundation to assist underserved families in reaching their potential and goals. The Foundation's goal is to provide tools and assistance to families facing challenging times. Some of the key areas of focus are education, homelessness, addressing hunger and utilizing sports as a platform to develop life skills.

The event brought together the Red Meat Lover's Club and fans at Sullivan Steak House, where they were able to mingle with Harris and his teammates and enjoy a relaxing evening of good food.

"It's important to me because it's something I like doing," said Harris. "It's not something I have to do, it's something I want to do. It's something that I really focus on when I am out of football, in the offseason, it's something I do.

"This is stuff I do for fun. I like this stuff because it makes me happy. It puts a smile on people's faces, kid's faces, and it's for a good cause."

Tuesday, September 27

An opportunity to spread knowledge: The Steelers continued their Social Justice film screening program on Tuesday night at the Rangos Giant Cinema at the Carnegie Science Center.

The program was launched in 2021 by the team's Social Justice Committee, with players joining youth from local community groups, giving them an opportunity to talk about issues in society that are currently impacting them.

Cornerback Cameron Sutton, guard Kevin Dotson and safety Elijah Riley hosted the latest screening, which brought about honest and open conversation.

"It's amazing," said Sutton. "It's an opportunity to spread knowledge that they are not necessarily familiar with, knowledge that might be hidden to them. Things they aren't aware of that can be close to their communities and their outer communities as well. It's the chance to continue to spread the knowledge, the love and bring people together through life situations and societal circumstances. Things we go through in life on a day-to-day basis that we can come together on and agree or disagree, but still move in the right direction to make the world a better place."

Sutton chose the movie, Judas and the Black Messiah, which focuses on the last year in the life of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Black Panther Party in Illinois and an activist who was killed in 1969 by Chicago police during a raid of his apartment that was done along with the FBI

"The whole story, Fred Hampton and his time, how he affected so many people," said Sutton. "It's getting the kids to agree and disagree on life situations like this. They are not just going through these things for the first time, the life situations they are in. They are things that happened historically before them. A lot of this stuff is out of our reach, the government issues, community issues. But we can do our part. If we don't take the initiative, how can we ever say we want change or move in the right direction for those things."

The film screening is one of the many projects the Social Justice Committee has undertaken, and Sutton embraces his involvement with it because he knows inspiring change is the only way to make progress.

"I think this is really great," said Sutton. "I took pride in things like this growing up. My parents made us aware of our situation, things going on around us and moving the right way in life. Now being in this role, being able to express things, hear from the community and their hurt. It's about where we can all come together as a whole, continue to keep moving in the right direction, whether it's at home, on the street or in schools. There are so many resources we have in the community that can continue to keep us pushing forward. It's bringing the sense of togetherness that we need."

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Shedding light on childhood hunger: Running back Najee Harris spent part of his Tuesday morning at Pittsburgh Barack Obama Academy of International Studies stressing the importance of nutrition as a part of Hunger Action Month.

Harris is helping to battle childhood hunger and was on hand to unveil new Grab and Go equipment for Pittsburgh Public Schools, which includes a school meal cart that is funded from a donation from American Dairy Association North East's National Football League Hometown Grants Fund.

"The school meal program is really important," said Harris. "Not everyone has the resources for food, and sometimes getting the meals at school is the only source of food they have. I think it's important for the kids and the schools to invest in giving the kids the best nutrition possible."

Harris spoke to the kids, keeping it real and relating to them as his family once faced struggles of their own when he was growing up.

"I can relate to what they are going through," said Harris. "I understand how important it is to have nutrition. I have been in that situation, that is why I do stuff like to help provide for them and let them know what they are going through doesn't go unnoticed."

In addition, GENYOUth is providing 26 NFL FLAG-In-Schools kits to Harris's Da' Bigger Picture Foundation. The foundation is focused on assisting underserved families, helping them to reach their potential by providing tools and assistance in areas including education, homelessness, hunger and utilizing sports as a platform to develop life skills.

A $10,000 donation was also made to Pittsburgh Public Schools from Fuel Up to Play 60

Golf for a cause: The inaugural Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research golf outing was held at the Club at Nevillewood, co-hosted by Jerome Bettis and Merril Hoge, both members of the Board of Directors.

The Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research was founded in 2016, honoring the Steelers late Hall of Fame coach and his passion to not just find better treatment for sports related brain injuries, but to also try to prevent them.

The foundation awards grants to advance research that is related to the diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries. The priorities for funding focus on research that addresses the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of injuries to the brain, with a primary focus on those stemming from sports related injuries.

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Friday, September 16

Making a wish come true: Friday was a dream come true for Collin Spall, who spent part of his day at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex watching the Steelers practice, and then meeting some of his favorite players.

"I have been a Steelers fan since about fourth grade," said Spall. "That was my earliest memory. I remember watching Troy Polamalu and that converted me into being a Steelers fan."

Spall, who has battled cancer, was a guest of the team through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He had to put the visit on hold for a few years because of the COVID-19 pandemic but was thrilled to finally get here.

"I always like watching them on Sunday, whether they win or lose," said Spall.

While every moment was special, a definite highlight was meeting some of his favorite players, including T.J. Watt, Derek Watt, Najee Harris and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

"They are the best team in the NFL," said Spall. "It's really cool. You see them on television and you know they are real, but you just don't make that connection always."

Spall will also see the Steelers play the Patriots on Sunday at Acrisure Stadium.

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The Steelers grant the wish of a Steelers fan

Thursday, September 15

The wheels on the bus: Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis had no idea when he was given the nickname, 'The Bus,' that one day the nickname would be more than just a fun way for fans to identify with him.

Bettis has used the nickname to help students across the Pittsburgh area with his newly launched WOW (WIFI on Wheels) CyberBus, a mobile classroom equipped with computers and internet access that will allow for remote learning in STEM education, computer science, financial literacy, and business development for students and parents.

The WOW CyberBus, done through the Jerome Bettis Foundation, made its debut at the Back-to-School event in Northview Heights on Thursday and will hit the streets throughout Pittsburgh in areas where the service is needed.

"It's important because what we found is access is the key," said Bettis. "If the kids have access, opportunities become greater exponentially. We want to provide access, and if we can't get to everyone's home, we'll bring it to that community. That's been the next phase of what we are doing. We have provided computers and access, now we want to bring the access to you in hopes that we can reach more kids and have more of an impact, a physical footprint in their community they can utilize. We feel that gives another opportunity to some kids that wouldn't have it."

When the pandemic forced remote learning throughout the country, the digital divide became more evident and Bettis has been doing his part all along. This next step was to partner with The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (HACP) and STEM Coding Lab to provide another avenue to help kids and families.

"To see what is available for the majority of kids, it's a crying shame if we can't provide at least this much access for everyone," said Bettis. "I see the amount of access kids have in some schools just with my own kids. I look at it and say we can do a better job of providing better access for all kids. One piece of that is to bring it to them."

Bettis might not still live in Pittsburgh, but his heart will forever be in the city and his goal is to always make an impact in the place that welcomed him and will forever be his home away from home.

"Pittsburgh gave me so much," said Bettis. "That is why it's so important for me to give back to Pittsburgh. I needed to return that love and support to Pittsburgh because it's been incredible to me.

"I never thought I was going to be able to have that type of impact. You play football and think that is what you have been put here to do and that gives you that fulfillment. You realize you have a bigger opportunity to create an impact, and that's what it really is all about. I would never have thought the nickname 'The Bus' would be the tool we would use to reach the kids. The nickname was always funny, but to use it in a practical sense means a lot to me. You want to make a difference."

About the WOW CyberBus: The CyberBus will operate weekdays from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. and will travel to a different neighborhood each day. Morning hours (10 a.m. – noon) will be reserved for parents who want to learn or hone their computer skills, work on their GEDs or learn how to start their own business. Staff and volunteers will be there to assist them in meeting their needs. The WOW CyberBus anticipates serving 5-8 parents each day or approximately 25-40 per week. Afternoons will be reserved for students. Each day, two afternoon computer programming classes will be taught; each class will serve 10-15 students daily or approximately 100-150 per week. During summer months, the hours can be altered to provide more access to students. We will be working with schools and programs on the Northside, in Homewood, Troy Hill, McKees Rocks, and other communities in the Pittsburgh area. The WOW CyberBus has been made possible by generous grants from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Heinz Endowments, CNX Foundation and additional support provided through the Mayor's office and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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Wednesday, September 14

Heroes night out: On Sunday the Steelers will host the New England Patriots for their home opener at Acrisure Stadium, but before the two teams take the field, there were some heroes playing football of their own there on Wednesday night.

For the 14th straight year, the Steelers hosted Heroes Night Out at Acrisure Stadium, honoring the men and women of the military and providing them a fun night of football, food and camaraderie among themselves.

The team worked with five local organizations, Veterans Place, Veterans Breakfast Club, RISE Veterans, Operation Troop Appreciation and the VA Hospital, to bring the group to Acrisure Stadium for football drills run by Steelers players.

"It's amazing," said Sherry Einhaus, COO of Operation Troop Appreciation. "Some of these guys don't get the opportunity to come out much. When you can give them the opportunity to come, get out on the field with other veterans, they're more than willing to come out to be with their brothers and sisters.

"It's amazing that the Steelers do this. They are hometown. We are all Pittsburgh. It's great to have them here, willing to be a part of this here at the field."

Before they became immersed in football, a somber moment of silence was held to honor all of the lives lost in the attacks of September 11, 2001, with the 21st anniversary of that horrific time taking place just days before.

After honoring those lost, the veterans had the opportunity to put their troubles behind them and relax and enjoy some fun on the field.

There were three different football stations, including passing, receiving and field goal kicking, a chance for the military members to test their skill level with those who do it for a living.

The Steelers hosted Heroes Night Out at Acrisure Stadium, giving back to veterans

"It's because of the vets who make this county go, defend this country, stand up for this country," said Steelers legend Craig Wolfley, who emceed the event. "I never understood their sacrifice, nor the things that happened to their families stateside when they are deployed, until my own son, Major Kyle Jacob Wolfley in the Army was deployed. Suddenly I understood in a very real way when you have a child in combat theater. As I look at the sacrifices, I have a real kinship in my heart for them.

"It's special because they are recognizing the sacrifices these men and women have made. It's a tremendous gesture on their part to bring them together. A lot of them come back from the battlefield with issues and scars. It's something that happens. We want to help them live the best life they can, and this is one of those steps forward in the whole thing."

Among the players taking part were Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Miles Killebrew, Christian Kuntz, John Leglue, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Chukwuma Okorafor, Robert Spillane and Derek Watt.

"We appreciate everything they do for us and our country," said Watt. "Just coming here to interact with them and do what we love, play football with them a little bit, and show our appreciation is special. I am excited to get to know some of them a little better, their background and some of their stories."

There were smiles as they attempted to hit a field goal, and laughter when they realized how tough it was. It was a perfect escape, a night to bond with each other and let their cares evaporate for a while.

"I am honored and excited to be out here. It feels good," said Malvina Jackson, who is from Pittsburgh and serves in the United States Air Force. "I am looking forward to the different activities. It's a wonderful thing. It's a great experience. For them to give back to the veterans, and be out here, is an honor in itself.

"Steelers football is everything. I live and breathe Steelers football."

In addition to the drills, the veterans posed for pictures with the players as they told them stories of watching football while on deployment. And the one word many veterans used when referring to the players was hero.

It was just the opposite for the players.

"We are not heroes. We are just playing a game," said Watt. "It's a totally different world. You can't even compare ourselves to them."

He wasn't the only one who felt that way.

"I wanted to come out and do this, be out here and show them my support because they support us," said Freiermuth. "I have a couple of family members that are active in the service, it's huge they put their lives on the line to protect our country. They are the real heroes."

Tuesday, September 13

Stepping up big time: Levi Wallace knows the importance of clean air. Growing up with asthma, he understands when playing sports, the air you breathe is vital.

And that is why he teamed with Austin Air Purifiers to donate seven air purifiers to the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania through the Levi Wallace Foundation.

"I just wanted to be able to give these out and help them any way I could," said Wallace. "We did that for my high school (Tucson High School) back in Arizona, donated air purifiers there. I grew up with asthma and couldn't really breathe. It didn't benefit me to play sports when I was younger. I just wanted to be able to give back to the community here, give the kids a chance to be able to breathe in healthy air.

"If we can minimize any risks, stop the flow of any kind of viruses, allergies and breathe better air, it's so beneficial for kids."

Wallace visited the B&G Club location in Carnegie where he provided the donation, as well as handed out Terrible Towels, signed pictures and spent time enjoying a pizza party with the kids.

"I want to be a part of Pittsburgh. I just want to give back to the community," said Wallace. "It's my passion. I love being around kids. My parents owned a daycare when I was growing up. I grew up in a daycare. I have a heart for kids, giving back to the community anyway that I can. I want to be a part of that. Now that I am in Pittsburgh, it's important for me to get involved.

"My mom still has the daycare. I try to go as much as I can. Kids have been important to them and that is why they are important to me."

It's that passion that drove Wallace to start his foundation, one that is focused on helping youth in underserved communities through the use of sports and academics. And he does it through providing scholarships for deserving youth, giving them an opportunity to further their education as he started off as a walk-on at Alabama.

"I want to be able to give back to kids, give out scholarships to college," said Wallace. "I was a walk-on. A lot of people will say I want to be a walk-on too. I am like, no you want to get a scholarship and be able to go to school for free and not put that burden on your parents. Any way I can help with that is what I do."

Wallace, who is six classes away from a second degree, always stresses the importance of education to kids, something he did during his visit on Tuesday.

"The best day is when I graduated from college," said Wallace. "When I give out scholarships, it's not just athletics, it's academics as well for kids who want to further themselves through education. That is so important to me."

Back to school: For the second straight year Chris Wormley did something he loves to do at the start of the school year.

He brought joy and happiness to kids.

Wormley visited Mifflin Elementary School where he handed out gift bags filled with school supplies, books and basic necessities to help kids as they kick off the year. And they were thrilled to have the Steelers defensive lineman in their presence, and he was just as excited to be there.

"This is my second time going back to Mifflin Elementary and I am super excited about it," said Wormley, who worked in conjunction with the Education Partnership Adopt-A-School program. "I get to hand out school supplies to K-8 school students and every kid gets a bag, which is exciting.

"Just for them to know that there are people in their corner. People that are willing to give back and spend time with them. I love to talk to the kids and spend time with them."

Wormley spent time visiting with the kids, taking pictures and giving them encouragement as they tackle another school year.

"If I can get them started off with notebooks, pencils, coloring stuff for the little kids, it means a lot to me," said Wormley. "It also lets them know there are people looking out for them and so they don't feel left out. There are times where kids don't have the necessary needs and funds to get school supplies, and if you don't have school supplies how can you learn. That's a big part of learning, having the supplies and resources to further your education. It all starts with the supplies."

Tuesday, September 6

Rookies hand out BatchPacks: Steelers rookies were out in the community on Tuesday, working with the Best of the Batch Foundationto distribute backpacks and other back to school goodies to kids at Duquesne Elementary School as part of their BatchPacks for Kids program, as well as learning more about the projects the organization spearheads.

Charlie and LaTasha Batch started the foundation while Batch was still playing for the Steelers, and it has blossomed into an organization that goes above and beyond to provide educational programs for kids in Western Pennsylvania, as well as serve families in the region.

Having the Steelers rookie class visit and assist with the distribution of the backpacks wasn't just an opportunity for the kids to benefit, but for the players as well.

"I think it's a combination of a couple of different things," said Batch. "Number one, people talk about the Rooney family and how giving they are in the community. So, for the rookies to hear that and actually be able to go out and experience that themselves, getting an opportunity to learn from all of the community partners the Steelers support, it's extremely beneficial. They have an opportunity to not only see what we have been able to do and how we have benefitted from the Steelers organization, but ultimately continue to do what we are doing in the community. It's a win-win situation for everybody. This can help the rookies figure out what they want to do at some point in the community, and it allows us the opportunity to show them what we do in the community.

"We are showing them what we do with our back-to-school program and what it's like to interact with the kids and see their faces when you are delivering the school supplies. It gets everyone excited."

The foundation distributes approximately 2,500 backpacks a year, filled with school supplies the students will need for the year. They also provide teacher bags, which have supplies so the teachers don't have to purchase their own classroom needs. It's all part of the overall effort for Batch to provide for those who need it the most.

And after two years of not being able to have full in-person visits and events, Batch was thrilled to have the rookies join them for the fun afternoon.

"They haven't been able to interact in the manner they typically do, but now they are getting the opportunity to get out there and see the relationships that have been built over the years," said Batch. "It makes for a fun time."

Steelers rookies spent time at Duquesne Elementary School and the Best of the Batch Foundation

Levi Wallace spent Tuesday afternoon at the Carnegie Boys & Girls Club of Western Pa., where he donated air purifiers, handed out Terrible Towels and had fun while hosting a pizza party with the kids

Friday, August 26

Showing some love: Safety Terrell Edmunds held a back-to-school event at Community Empowerment Association (CEA) Pittsburgh, spending time with the students, handing out backpacks, swag bags, new shoes and more.

"We're very blessed to be doing what we do every day," said Edmunds. "We have the platform where people look up to us. Just to show our face and be hands on in the community, that is something big for us."

Edmunds was joined at the event by his brother, Trey Edmunds, and cornerback Levi Wallace, all spending time with the kids and sharing invaluable moments.

"I think that is the biggest thing," said Edmunds. "Anybody can give money, but you never get to see those people. For kids who look up to us, for us to be right there, them be able to shake our hand, take pictures, hang out with us. That means more to me and sometimes to the kids."

This is the latest in Edmunds giving back efforts, something he tries to continue today to follow the example set by his parents.

"I have been blessed to be around some great people," said Edmunds. "It goes back to my parents and how much they gave back to people in my hometown. I saw how much people respected them, and how much I respect my parents. It's something I want to do and will continue to do."

Monday, August 22

Back to school in style: It's that time of year again, when summer vacation comes to an end and back to school supplies occupy the shelves of stores across the country.

For some families, though, paying for those supplies can be a challenge.

That is why the Steelers joined forces with other organizations to help with the 10th Annual Pittsburgh Public Schools Back to School Event at Acrisure Stadium.

To give the kids a fresh start for school, the Steelers provided haircuts and manicures, giving everyone a self-esteem boost. The team also provided books for the kids, and The Heyward House provided hygiene kits. The team also helped connect the students with much needed resources that will benefit them throughout their educational endeavors.

"It's important to emphasize that the Pittsburgh Steelers have come out in ways that we would have never imagined," said Merecedes Williams, Media Manager for Pittsburgh Public Schools. "When you open up your facility, Acrisure Stadium and the FedEx Great Hall, it's more than just executing, it's the Pittsburgh Steelers saying we appreciate Pittsburgh Public Schools and their families. What we are hearing from the students is seeing the space and what it means. They have never been to a professional game. When they see it, it ignites them for their own success. I saw kids walking around with their nose up to the displays seeing all of the great things. They learned about people who are where they are and going on to do great things.

"It's little kids, young learners, young minds, who are able to prepare for the first day of school. The Steelers prepared a healthy environment and space for literacy and achievement and showed that the community loves them. The Steelers made a commitment and investment to our families that will last a long time."

Over 4,600 stuffed backpacks were also distributed, something that goes a long way during some challenging economic times.

"We are looking at it everywhere we go," said Williams. "When we go to the gas pump, when we go to the grocery store. We are seeing it now more than ever. It's important for our families to be ready for school. If we can take some of that stuff off of their lap, or remove the burdens, that is what we want to do. That was the goal for today."

The giving back continued later in the day, when linebacker Alex Highsmith went to Clairton Elementary School to hand out backpacks and school supplies provided through the Alex Highsmith Family Foundation.

"It's awesome just to be able to give back," said Highsmith. "I have been blessed with what I have for a reason, it's to give blessings to others. To be able to give back to the community in this way, to give back to kids in this way, kids who needs this, it's a special opportunity."

This is the second year Highsmith has done the back-to-school giveaway and seeing the kids reaction makes it truly special.

"It's cool because I know when I was in their shoes I reacted the same way," said Highsmith. "Just being able to be a blessing to them, that is my main goal off the field. To use my talents and ability to help others.

"I know it can be stressful for the parents. To be able to provide for some of the kids who don't have the things they need, that is what we are called to do."

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