On Monday night, the Steelers and the Catholic Youth Association of Pittsburgh (CYA) teamed up to do something that would have made Art Rooney Sr. smile.
During an event that normally honors some of the top names in the corporate, sports and media world, the two organizations combined to honor those who have meant the most to the City of Pittsburgh over the past year plus.
Front line workers.
The annual Art Rooney Awards dinner normally is a who's who of those in the Pittsburgh community, honoring names we have all become familiar with. But this year, everyone involved in the annual dinner, which benefits the CYA, knew they had to take a different route.
"Normally the award winners in all categories are normally industry leaders, people who had a long business career and established themselves as community leaders," said Mary Ann Heneroty, CEO of the CYA. "This year we said who was on the front line, trying to keep our society going, keeping people alive. It was the nurses, grocery clerks, childcare workers. We had people nominate front line workers, that was the premise, and everyone supported it fully. This is something special for them."
It was Art Rooney Sr., whose Catholic faith was in the forefront of his life, who saw that the CYA was struggling financially back in the 1970s. He knew he needed to step in and help one of his favorite charities, ensuring that they would be able to continue their mission. It was that passion that the Art Rooney Award Dinner was born out of, an annual event that benefits the CYA. It's an event that has embodied what Art Rooney Sr., lovingly known as 'The Chief,' believed in and one the Steelers and the Rooney family still passionately support.
The dinner has always promoted honoring "Pittsburgh Champions," and this year those champions included 50 frontline workers, from nurses, to childcare workers, teachers, pharmacists, grocery store workers, waitresses, respiratory therapists, and much more.
Each of the 50 recipients were presented with the Art Rooney Award as a 2021 Pittsburgh front line hero by Dan Rooney, the son of Steelers President Art Rooney II and great-grandson of Art Rooney Sr., during the event held in the FedEx Great Hall at Heinz Field.
"It's a beautiful thought in a trying time where teamwork and helping others has never been more important," said Rooney. "The front line workers represent that to the fullest. When the country was truly shut down, they were the ones leading the charge and moving things forward. Giving recognition to everyone that has helped the efforts on the healthcare side and then on the front lines makes perfect sense to the organization.
"This is such a good cause and something I understand The Chief, who I never got to meet but have heard many stories about how passionate he was about this charity and a platform he felt strongly about."
The awardees, who were also thanked by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, were guests of the Steelers at the team's preseason game against the Detroit Lions, another way to say thank you.
"I think when The Chief started this 48 years ago, every single award we have given out, the underpinning of it was people doing good things for their neighborhoods, our city, and for our region," said Michael Bartley, the emcee for the evening, a CYA board member and President of Bartley Media. "Who better to honor this time around. They took a risk to deliver goods and services, to keep us safe from getting sick and perhaps dying during this scary time. Honoring our frontline heroes during Covid in the Pittsburgh region is the perfect extension of what we do with the Art Rooney Award.
"This could be the most special event we've ever held. Them being so excited about tonight and being honored, that truly is what is special about tonight. It's not about CYA, it's not about the Steelers as much as it is about our awardees. These are the true people that had this conviction of helping a neighbor and keeping us safe."