Investing in kids' futures is the first step

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 with a donation to the Homewood Children's Village, with Cameron Heyward leading the way.

In a neighborhood where kids could easily turn to the streets and quickly, and sadly, become a statistic, Walter Lewis is doing his part to make sure that doesn't happen.

Lewis, the President and CEO of Homewood Children's Village, is making a difference in the lives of kids in the Homewood area, reaching out to them, offering services for them to continue to grow, and taking every step to make sure they don't become a statistic. Because as we all know, it takes a village to raise a child.

"Homewood Children's Village is all about wrapping our arms around the children and families in Homewood and supporting as much as we can," said Lewis. "We support children and families from cradle to career through a series of programs, partnerships with schools and other agencies to ensure kids have all of the things they need to graduate on time, get ready for college, a career and life."

It sounds so simple, but it's not. Homewood is an area that has been plagued by violence and tough financial times. But what Lewis and those at the Homewood Children's Village do is provide hope and opportunity, through promoting education to even providing food resources during the toughest of times.

"When the pandemic hit, the need was tremendous," said Lewis. "We saw a lot of increase. We had a lot of issues in the community already, before COVID, the situation with the pandemic has exacerbated those challenges. The silver lining is because our organization and our partners were already engaged in the work that we do, it wasn't that we needed to start new things, it was just scaling things up and pivoting how we deliver our services. The work that we do would not happen without our partners helping us along the way, especially during this pandemic. Our organization and partners were already providing food to families, so what we had to do was figure out how to distribute and deliver it as compared to how we were doing it in the past. I think that certainly helped us to meet the needs."

There are so many needs that still need to be met though, and that is panerwhere Cameron Heyward is once again stepping in. For the third year, Heyward is focusing on Homewood Children's Village, which was recommended by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, for his donation through 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. The program gives the players the opportunity to make donations to a local organization, and the Steelers have matched all of the donations.

Thanks to Heyward's generous donation of $50,000, as well as donations from Steven Nelson, Diontae Johnson and Jerald Hawkins and Sean Davis that totaled $11,000, and the Steelers matching the donation, the Homewood Children's Village is receiving $122,200 to help them continue to nurture the kids in the community and build them into individuals who will flourish down the road.

"To watch the kids have resources, to watch the adults use the space as well, it's an awesome place," said Heyward. "It's very unique in that it serves so many different people. It's a lasting thing that can benefit the community. With everything going on, we talk about giving back to our communities, serving our communities, they are doing that during a pandemic, which is unbelievable.

"Being from Pittsburgh, my grandparents not living too far from there, and seeing firsthand what they do is special. Coach (Mike) Tomlin and I went there last year and to be able to see how appreciative they were was special. This is something I hope helps them grow their foundation."

That it will.

"First of all, it's tremendous that Cam has done this," said Lewis. "I really appreciate Cam doing it. I know it's not a one-time thing because he has been doing it for a long time. It means a lot to us from a financial standpoint. This has been a tumultuous time for nonprofits, and businesses in general. We are one of the lucky ones who have been able to survive this pandemic so far. We haven't had to shut our doors. We don't take that for granted.

"Going into 2021 is uncertain and we aren't sure what it looks like. A lot of foundations have overspent in 2020 and now with the pandemic not looking to let up, so right now we don't know what 2021 is going to look like. Having the support at this level shows confidence in the work that we do and gives us the ability to keep going forward.

"When we get donations like this it helps us keep going and focus on doing the most impactful work we can in the community. Because we have Cam, the Steelers, other players helping us with the work we do."

One of the biggest services the organization provides is academic support. They provide a full-service Community School, giving holistic support to students to help in their development needs and key areas of focus include early childhood development, health and wellness, academic support, extended learning opportunities, and family and community stability.

"The reality is a lot of kids you look at, if you look at the statistics and data, kids in our community weren't thriving in the current school system," said Lewis. "When you throw in COVID and these sort of additional periods of learning loss, when kids weren't fully engaging, especially in the spring when our kids didn't have internet access or devices to utilize, we knew education was going to be a huge need. We aren't just trying to close the gap, but rather leapfrog and use the opportunity. We are having community learning hubs where kids can come in, have internet access in a safe space and it helps their parents. In one case a parent just got a new job and wouldn't have been able to keep their job if not for the learning hub.

"It's stories like that which keep me and our staff encouraged to continue doing this work. We are not done. The kids were behind before the pandemic so we have a lot of work to do to leapfrog the kids forward so they can thrive at the end of their high school journey."

Lewis has so many stories, from those who went on to start families and share the values they learned, to others who went out into the work force and came full circle by giving back. It's about everyone coming together.

"The Homewood Children's Village is in a part of the community that needs the help," said Heyward. "We always talk about addressing that. The community needs to know that not just I care, but the Steelers care and the leaders among the Pittsburgh community care as well. There are always going to be things we can accomplish together. I feel lucky to be able to help them again this year.

"There are so many stories. I understand we're able to do our jobs. Some people aren't. It's been very tough for families. I am proud to see our players doing their part through the grant program. They continue to grow in their part. It's not something I take lightly. If you choose to be involved, be involved. That goes a long way. It's not just about football. We want to be men of service and I think this is a good step."

It's a step that can help in ways beyond what monetary donations provide.

"Getting help from Cam, from the Steelers, those are the things that can take a donation and can possibly double or triple it because other people might want to get involved as well," said Lewis. "The spotlight it shines on the organization is incredible. The other thing too is the spotlight it shines on our community and what it feels like for a kid in our learning hub to know that Cam Heyward is investing in you. His donation is going to help us continue to provide support and services and programs for you. That is very powerful."

About Homewood Children's Village:

Homewood Children's Village serves children, families, and the community.

Homewood Children's Village (HCV), formally established in 2010, is a 501c3 that serves children, families, and the community by breaking down the social and economic barriers to success. Through collaboration, engagement, advocacy, and research, HCV offers a continuum of direct services and learning support for children and their families from cradle to career, working diligently to address the complex challenges facing Homewood's youth.

HCV realizes this mission through a child-centered model that is designed to provide support from cradle to career. HCV is the lead partner agency for Homewood Community Schools (Faison, Lincoln, and Westinghouse). And with the help of many partners, HCV offers academic, social, and health programming to children, families, schools, and the community.

HCV also provides programming for families and adults centered on the core belief that parents are children's first teachers, and research suggests that increasing adults' capacity can improve child outcomes. We connect families to resources that include continued education, job training, and anti-poverty and leadership programs. The ultimate goal for this multi-generational (2Gen) programming approach is to support families towards self-determination, physical, and economic well-being, which provides the foundation for self-sufficiency. When families thrive, children succeed.

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