Since Kiya Tomlin joined the board of the Pittsburgh Promise she has been passionate about finding a way for the students who have benefitted from it to pay it forward.
This year her vision is coming to light as the first group of college graduates who benefitted from the scholarships provided by the Pittsburgh Promise are giving back to the community and helping to raise funds for the Pittsburgh Promise to benefit future high school students.
"I have been pushing for that," said Tomlin, the wife of Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin. "Being on the board I know the focus is to raise money. It's a crazy amount of money to try and raise and we ask help from the corporations, foundations, and certain individuals. We focus our energies on that.
"But I have been passionate about getting the people who are receiving this involved, whether it's the parents, the kids. It can be anything, a penny drive, whatever. It's having the kids give back in some way and contribute in some way and show their appreciation."
The Pittsburgh Promise is a scholarship that is awarded to Pittsburgh Public School students who are in need and have spent all four years attending a Pittsburgh public high school and live in the city, allotting a maximum of $40,000 towards their college education.
"It's about growing our city," said Tomlin. "The scholarships will add an energized and educated work force back to our city. Our city will benefit as a whole."
The program was introduced four years ago, so this year the first group of college graduates are taking part in a series of events to give back, which began on May 31 and June 1 with volunteering in the community throughout the city. It continued on Thursday, June 14 when the students held an all night dance-a-thon to raise money for the Pittsburgh Promise at Stage AE.
"It's the ultimate of blessings," said Saleem Ghubril, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Promise. "It's a delight to see a young person overcome all sorts of odds, do well for themselves, pursue higher education, succeed and complete it. To see them come back for a job in Pittsburgh and now say thank you Pittsburgh for investing in me. We want to pay it forward, be involved in service in the community and raise money so the next generation has the same opportunity they had."
Kiya and Mike Tomlin, along with several Steelers players, were on hand at the dance-a-thon, cheering the graduates on and offering their support for a program that means so much to so many.
"To me it's an amazing opportunity for all of the students," said Kiya Tomlin. "I enjoy it because when I was younger, being the third kid of a single mother you wanted to go to college, but the thought of paying for it is unbelievable. My sister and brother are older than me and they both joined the military and I was the last one left. The rule in the house was if you want to go away to school you have to get a scholarship. That is what drove me in gymnastics. But if you are a kid and don't have that special thing that you can work towards to get a scholarship, I don't know how you can keep kids motivated that can't afford to go. The Promise for middle class families relieves the burden of the bills, but for poor kids it's really giving them hope and that there is something more. They know going to college is a possibility. There is something to strive for there. It's a reason to stay in school, stay out of trouble, all of that. Now they have a hope and can see a future as opposed to a kid whose parents can't make ends meet and you have to get out of high school and get a job.
"It's an amazing opportunity for Pittsburgh's kids. They are our kids, this is our community. The city will benefit from having that educated population that can go off to college, come back and be even more productive. This graduating class doing this, it's validation. It's like it worked and it's going to continue to work. It's exciting."