Dan Rooney's vision for mentoring lives on

Late Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney was a visionary. He always saw what needed to be done to make improvements and he acted on them.

And his vision wasn’t just limited to the Steelers and the NFL.

It was also a part of the Pittsburgh community, and many have benefited because of it.

Rooney was the founding chairman of The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania over 20 years ago, which now serves more than 20,000 kids each year. He understood the impact and difference that could be made by connecting young people with caring mentors. In the 22 years since they began, they’ve worked with hundreds of local programs to bring mentoring to more than 20,000 kids each year.

To honor his memory, The Mentoring Partnership presented the first-ever Ambassador Daniel M. Rooney Champion of Mentoring Award on Tuesday night to Bob Nelkin, the former CEO of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“I am overjoyed. It’s so exciting,” said Nelkin. “Dan Rooney is such an icon of civic and community philanthropy and leadership. The Ambassador helped people internationally, nationally. He was one of the owners who helped forge the NFL and United Way partnership. There was a moment when the national United Way had problems and Dan was part of righting the ship. He was also the chair of the board of United Way when as a young adult I was on it. He is a leader who is known far and wide for his good deeds. It’s such an honor to win an award named after him.”

Steelers President Art Rooney II presented the award to Nelkin at the Magic of Mentoring Event at Heinz Field.

“My dad was involved in this program going way back when they started it,” said Rooney. “I think he recognized the need for some people to be mentored. That is something he always believed in. It’s great they are recognizing his interest in the program by naming the award after him.

“I am honored to present the first award to Bob. I can’t think of anybody who is more deserving than Bob. He spent so much time on the mentoring program. It’s been a passion of his. There is nobody I can think of who is more deserving.”

Through his work with the United Way, Nelkin expanded the organization’s mentoring footprint, and was instrumental in the creation of the Be A Middle School Mentor program, something that grew from the Be A Sixth Grade Mentor program he helped kick off. It’s in 22 Pittsburgh Public Middle Schools, in the Mon-Valley and other schools.

“Every child needs an adult who can help guide them, help them think about the future, understand how they can line up success both in school and in life in making the right decisions,” said Nelkin. “It’s an essential of life as a young person and you are consumed with every intense moment of childhood, to have people who help you think about the future and put yourself in a place where you can be successful.

“Soon after I got to the United Way we started a program called Be A Sixth Grade Mentor. We changed that a few years later to Be A Middle School Mentor. It was when Art Rooney II began the United Way board chairman, so he presided over us starting this program. An accomplished adult meets once a week with a child in school and talks about what are your dreams, what do you hope to do when you are an adult, and the importance of planning for that. It’s about helping kids to see beyond. They might think the future is recess or the end of the school day. That is short-term. This program helps kids see the future and forge their success in the future.”

About The Mentoring Partnership: The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA (TMP) helps children by delivering resources to mentoring programs throughout our region. We promote the importance of quality mentoring; present best practices and research; and deliver training, technical assistance and professional development for the staff and volunteers of local programs.

To learn more, visit The Mentoring Partnership.

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