Helping those who are sometimes forgotten

For the third year, Steelers players are leading the Steelers Social Justice Grant program. Players are making donations to local organizations that are having an impact on the community, and the Steelers are matching the donations. The Steelers kicked off the 2020 Steelers Social Justice Grant program recently, and it continues today with Jordan Berry and Joe Haden making a difference in the community.

The foster care system is a strong one, but it's not a forever system. There is a point where young adults no longer fit in the system. Where basically, they are just too old for it.

For those who reach that point, it can be scary, it can be intimidating.

They are a group that could easily be forgotten, could easily be pushed out on their own without the means to survive if there wasn't someone there to help.

And so many times, for people in their situation, there isn't someone to help.

In Pittsburgh, though, it's a different story.

ACTION-Housing has been a mainstay in Pittsburgh since 1957, working with the community to develop strong neighborhoods through development of housing for low-income households.

But as times have changed, they have seen the need change, and one of them is helping those in the 18 to 24-year old range who have either aged out of the foster care system or are experiencing homelessness because of extenuating circumstances.

In 2010, ACTION-Housing created MyPlace, a program that provides housing and case management for Allegheny County youth who are either transitioning out of foster care or at-risk for homelessness. The goal of the program is to provide care and support for them as they transition to independence. They help provide housing, education, food, clothing, mental health services and more, anything they can to help.

"Our ultimate end goal is to make sure these adults are self-sufficient and to be successful in what they want to be," said Sharon Langford, Director of Social Services at ACTION-Housing. "One of the things we talk to them about is you have an opportunity now to change some of those norms and values that your family had set for you that weren't good. Now as a young adult you can change that, be better, and do better. That is our philosophy. We want them to be happy, have a better life and whatever they receive from us, pay it forward. I always tell them make yourself available to help the next person."

For Steelers punter Jordan Berry, it's that desire to pay it forward that has him, along with cornerback Joe Haden, paying it forward to ACTION-Housing for the third straight year as part of the Steelers Social Justice Grant program, a program which is led by the players in an effort to engage with various factions, including law enforcement, charitable organizations, military and more to strengthen the community at large. Berry and Haden donated $5,000 each to ACTION-Housing's MyPlace, with the Steelers matching the donation for a total of $20,000.

"Having Jordan and Joe donate to us means two things," said Larry Swanson, Executive Director of ACTION-Housing. "First of all, it helps us affirm to these young adults that their lives are important. That having a civic, iconic group like the Steelers acknowledge that is important. It means a lot to them individually. Many of them come to us without having affirmation that their lives are important. It's important from that aspect. And they are donating to us again. It's wonderful they are doing this again. We thank them for their commitment to young adults.

"Second, we use the resources as discretionary grants to help them with little things to help them advance their independence in life.
Most of the money we get are government grants that are prescribed where they go. This gives us the helping hand we need."

The donations are used for the things we often take for granted, a comfortable mattress, luggage to put belongings in instead of carrying everything you own in a garbage bag. Basics, simple basics that give them a sense of pride.

"It means absolutely everything to have the support of Jordan and Joe," said Langford. "I think a lot of times young people feel that people don't care about them, don't care about what they are going through. For an organization like the Steelers and the players to come in and help, where the money they are contributing helps them buy a mattress where they say that is the best sleep they had in a long time. Or to come into an apartment and say this is for me. Are you sure? The donation goes such a long way of helping a young person stay in school.

"The contribution the Steelers make helps us out because a lot of the times the funding we get is very restrictive. We can't do things like purchase a good bed for the person, or make sure they even have a suitcase. Most of the time when they come to us, which is an upsetting time, they come to us and their stuff is in garbage bags. Most of the young people feel like my stuff is in a garbage bag, I feel like garbage. For us to be able to take them in to our programs, and then eventually help them move on their own where we can hire movers to help them, their move is a positive experience instead of the previous one where it was all in trash bags."

Berry knows how lucky he is to have never faced a situation like that, especially as an athlete who has had opportunities many others don't receive in life. That is why it's important for him to give back, and give back to those who have had to endure bumps in the road.

"People that aren't in the fortunate situation we are in as football players, where we come out of high school and go straight into a well set up system in college football, where we get our housing paid for, our food paid for while we study and have a good support system around us, there are people who aren't in the same situation," said Berry. "Having a group like this out there to support those who need the help, I think it's great what they are doing.

"Helping people out with things like bedding, things we don't think about, if you are trying to start out and make it in the world and you want to go to college or a trade school to have the skills you need to have a good career going forward, you need that support system there. You need those things to get out of the rut, to dig yourself out. A group like this is there to help with everything, including those basic necessities to give them a better life."

MyPlace is currently serving around 186 young adults in their six programs. Even through the COVID-19 pandemic they have maintained safe face-to-face contact through the case workers and those they serve to ensure they are being taken care of and being safe. They are also investing in their futures, hiring some of those who have been through the program to be case workers themselves.

"One thing we say here is there are a lot of diamonds we work with here at MyPlace," said Langford. "They may be flawed, but we keep rubbing them and rubbing them and they start to shine.

"One of the things I always felt was important was for us to give back. We hire the young people we work with. We have them in different positions at MyPlace, such as case managers working with the youth they were once like. It's helping another person take care of themselves. We have had some rough situations, but that is our goal, for them to get themselves together and start helping each other out."

It's that commitment to those who have successfully been through their program that really ignites a spark in Berry when it comes to helping out.

"That says a lot about them as people and a group," said Berry. "You aren't going to have people want to come back and help if they don't believe in what they are doing. That is good to see that reinvestment in other people and helping them get through and try to make it."

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