Heyward spreading kindness all week

Kindness.

It's a word that our world truly doesn't have enough of.

But Cameron Heyward is trying to change that one kind gesture at a time.

Heyward is no stranger to spreading kindness in the Pittsburgh community and beyond, but this week he is taking it to the next level.

Heyward and The Heyward House have launched 'Cam's Kindness Week,' a time for him to spend the week in the community giving back to a wide range of areas.

"It's something a little bit different, something we can rally around," said Heyward. "I think each different event speaks for itself. I like grouping it together and showing anyone is capable of Cam's kindness. We can all have an impact.

"We have so much in our world where we are trying to put each other down instead of building each other up. I want everybody included on it, my brothers on the team, my family, my friends, my community. We can all give back. We can all have an impact on our community. We just have to all work together."

Each day we will bring you the latest that Heyward is doing in the community, so check back throughout the week for more.

Take a look at Pittsburgh Steelers' DT Cameron Heyward giving back to the community

Friday, September 30

The final event in Cam's Kindness Week took place on Friday afternoon, when Heyward presented a $10,000 check to Girls High School Flag Football in Pittsburgh.

A group of coaches and players attended Steelers practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, and then were presented the check afterwards.

"It's cool to see the way women's sports continue to pick up," said Heyward. "I want to be an advocate for that. Football in Pittsburgh has always been big. I think flag football is really cool. I am excited I got to meet some of the girls and let them know I want to support everything they do."

The Steelers have worked closely with the league in Pittsburgh, launching a program to encourage high schools to sanction girls flag football, which is the case in some states, but not Pennsylvania.

Heyward is hoping he can help the league grow more and eventually reach the goal of being sanctioned.

"It's really cool to see young women, young women who should have the right to play any sport they want to play, work to get it sanctioned too," said Heyward. "It should be sanctioned in every state. I hope one day it catches steam and we are talking about having women's flag football on a permanent stage. It takes work and I want to be a part of it."

As Heyward wrapped up the week, he reflected on how special it was to be out in the community the way he was and hopes it's just the beginning of something special.

"It's about setting an example," said Heyward. "I am having a fun time doing it. Hopefully I am setting an example more people can follow, and we can keep giving back to our community.

"It was a great opportunity to give back to our communities and set the tempo for how we want to give back. I want to show how much I care about my community.

"It's a blessing finding creative ways around Pittsburgh to not only give back, but inspire, take time to look at what our community needs. I don't like taking that for granted. It excites me."

Heyward will officially wrap-up Cam's Kindness Week on Sunday when the Steelers play the New York Jets at Acrisure Stadium. Heyward is providing tickets and pregame sideline passes to alumni of his Craig's Closet program, giving them the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon of Steelers football.

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Thursday, September 29

Cam's Kindness Week continued Thursday, and he got a little bit of help from his friends this time around.

Heyward was joined by some of his teammates at the Sheridan Avenue Orchard and Garden in East Liberty, where his grandmother still lives, for an afternoon of cleaning up the garden in preparation for the fall season.

The Sheridan Avenue Orchard and Garden was developed in 2012, turning an abandoned lot into an urban garden by Repair the World Pittsburgh.

It has since grown from a vacant lot to have more than 20 fruit trees and 18 garden beds, where neighbors can get free produce like tomatoes and peppers, as well as items being donated to the local food pantry.

"People come out and give back, donate their time, cleaning up, planting new trees," said Heyward. "It then gets to the food pantry and provides for people in need. There are so many things that go into it and being a part of it means so lot.

"You take pride in your community. So many people use this area, so many people interact in this area. You should want to take care it, and where you are from.

"It gives kids and adults a sense of pride of where they come from. When you have that pride you are going to keep things nice. It's going to make things more inviting, and people are going to want to be around the area and that can help."

The group also enhanced the area by adding pavers to the garden, making it easier for residents to get around and be able to take advantage of the free produce available.

"I'm having a lot of fun," said Heyward. "I get brought to life and filled with joy just by having fun and giving back to the community."

Heyward said his inspiration for wanting to take part in today's event, as well as the rest of the events during Cam's Kindness Week, is because of his love for the Pittsburgh area. It's where his grandparents and mother are from and played a huge role in his upbringing.

"When I was a kid, I was a part of this community," said Heyward. "I would come here every summer and live with my grandparents. The community always showed generosity and were always kind to me. I wanted to give back to the community that helped raise me.

"That's all kids ask for, and all everyone asks for, is someone to be kind to them. Someone to spend a little extra time with them. Everybody has a different situation. It's just about being there for them."

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Wednesday, September 28

The joy of 'Cam's Kindness Week' continued Wednesday when Heyward visited Angels' Place on Pittsburgh's North Side.

Angels' Place offers family centered childcare services and early education programs at no cost, or significantly reduced rates, to qualifying parents. The goal is to provide a safe, fun and comfortable environment where families are free to grow and learn while enjoying some of life's simple pleasures.

"I think it's awesome this service and organization is available," said Heyward. "In our climate, with so many things going on today, the needs of children are paramount. It's good to know this service is offered and parents don't have to make choices about paying bills or getting their kids the best care."

Heyward helped to provide some simple pleasure for the kids at Angels' Place with a donation of early learning toys to help make their growth a fun and positive experience.

"It means everything to us," said Adrienne Britt, Education Director at Angels' Place on the North Side. "Our parents were so excited. He is so great with the kids. I loved his interactions with everyone. He was so kind with the parents. It was a natural feeling.

"This is such a huge blessing to our families being that they are single parents, just providing them with extra resources is a blessing to them. They are forever thankful and grateful for everything that comes with Angels' Place, and especially for having Cam as well."

As a father of three himself, giving back to kids is something near and dear to Heyward's heart.

"My kids have a lot of blessings," said Heyward. "We don't take it for granted. A lot of kids don't have toys. I know it's not a necessity, but you can brighten a kid's life with something like this. Sometimes they just need the opportunity to explore things and be a kid. They don't always get that."

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Tuesday, September 27

Heyward continued 'Cam's Kindness Week' on Tuesday with multiple events, beginning the day at the McKeesport Presbyterian Church's Head Start Program.

Heyward read to the children enrolled in the program and afterwards they painted the newest installment of his Little Free Libraries.

"We partnered with them to bring a Little Free Library outside of the church and had the opportunity to paint it with all of the young students," said Heyward. "Then I got to read them a book. I always had great teachers in my life that taught me how to reach, to thrive in school. It's inspiring kids to read, improve their literacy. Every kid should have a book they can read."

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Heyward honored his grandparents when he started the Rufus and Judy Jordan Literacy Program, an initiative working to promote children's literacy and honor his grandparents, who were longtime educators in Pittsburgh.

As a part of the program, The Heyward House installed Little Free Libraries beginning in 2020 to help underserved communities in the Pittsburgh area and continue to do so.

Heyward has made sure the libraries were well stocked, delivering books of all kinds, including ones that touch on social justice, racial equality, financial literacy, and life skills topics.

Heyward was inspired to start the Little Free Libraries after his grandfather, who was known as 'Pup-Pup' to his grandkids, passed away in June 2020. Rufus had a love of reading and education was paramount to him, serving as a teacher at Carrick High School and then as a founder and Vice President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, a position he held for more than 35 years. In addition, his grandmother, Judy, was a Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher for over 30 years before retiring.

"Not everyone can get to the library," said Heyward. "Not everyone has a library card. Providing people with an opportunity to learn is pretty cool. I grew up with a family that valued education, and I want to be able to provide for young kids and give them the literacy tools they need in the future."

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The day continued when Heyward headed to Barack Obama Academy of International Studies for a ribbon cutting ceremony for the newest location for Craig's Closet.

Heyward launched Craig's Closet in 2018 to honor his father, the late Craig 'Ironhead' Heyward, who died of brain cancer at age 39. Heyward played football at the University of Pittsburgh, and when he arrived as a freshman running back, he had only one suit, something he was grateful to at least have coming from a single-parent home with six siblings.

With so many young men in Pittsburgh facing the same challenge of not having a suit that they could wear to a job interview, their internship, events and more, Heyward came up with a plan. Craig's Closet provides free dress clothes to help young men as they move forward in life.

"The idea came from my dad," said Heyward. "When he grew up, he only had one suit. A lot of his friends didn't have suits at all. This is a creative way we thought of to give back to the community and help prepare young men for jobs, or homecoming, moving forward in life. You never know how much a suit can help present yourself.

"We're just trying to prepare these kids for the future, helping out any way we can. Many young people in our community face that same plight as my father. I want them to know they are seen, heard and through this program we are there to support them as they push forward with their future goals. We want to raise the student's level of confidence and sense of self. Like my dad used to always tell me, if you look good, you play good. Hopefully we can do that as well. They will be able to use the suits proudly at banquets, in internships, and formal events with their heads held high.

"Yesterday would have been my father's 56th birthday. He was a man that took great joy and pride in his family and community. I am proud to continue his legacy of giving back and helping to move our community forward."

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The newest installation of Craig's Closet at Barack Obama Academy is the first one done in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Public Schools, but not the last by a long shot. By the end of 2023 the plan is to have one installed in all of Pittsburgh Public School high school locations.

"Through Craig's Closet, high school male students will have access to free men's dress clothes for interviews, internships, banquets and more, so they feel confident walking into spaces where they most certainly belong," said Dr. Wayne Walters, Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools. "Never will, 'I don't have anything to wear,' stop them from pursuing their passion and interest. I always said you have to look the part to be the part, and there is nothing more special than stepping into the space with total swagger.

"We are profoundly grateful for this gift of love from The Heyward House and Sports Clips. Giving the shirt off your back is the epitome of love. It's this kind of love that shows our students what they mean to all of us as adults. This love is why the staff at the Barack Obama Academy of International Studies, and across our district come to work every day. And why members in our community like Cam and his mother Charlotte do what they do."

Through the generosity of donations big and small, Craig's Closet is something that will continue to help young men in a manner Heyward never could have imagined.

"It just continues to grow," said Heyward. "The resources we have gained from so many different people helping us out, to the number of kids you see happy to have a suit or something to call their own. It speaks a lot to my dad, the work he did, the man he was. I think it speaks a lot to our community to give back and make sure the kids have suits."

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Monday, September 26

'Cam's Kindness Week' kicked off on Monday with a visit to UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he visited their Dream Big Studio and was the celebrity host of their "What's in the Box" game show, joined by teammate T.J. Watt for the entertaining game.

While he was unable to visit the kids in person because of continuing COVID protocols, the kids were all able to watch the game show and participate virtually.

"It's awesome," said Heyward. "I was a kid in Children's Hospital at one time too. You just want to do anything they need. Whether it's a laugh, a joke, a smile on their face. Someone to talk to. You never know what those interactions are going to mean. Sometimes you just need a smile on your face."

This isn't the first time Heyward has given back to the kids at Children's Hospital. He previously has donated hundreds of jerseys to the kids, spent endless hours at the hospital visiting, and spread joy to those who need it the most.

"I was in Children's Hospital when I was young," said Heyward. "I wouldn't be around today without them. I know there are kids going through similar and tougher situations. I had really bad asthma growing up. Really young I had seizures. I always had bad allergies. I was allergic to real Christmas trees. I spent time around Christmas in the hospital one year. I am thankful for what they did for me.

"Children's Hospital is an awesome place. Anything I can do to help them, even something small, I want to do it."

And if you are keeping score, Heyward beat Watt in "What's in the Box." And of course, a Terrible Towel was in one of them.

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