Lending a hand during a tough year

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 last week, and it continues today with Maurkice Pouncey making donations to multiple organizations in an effort to make a difference in the community.

In a year when many charitable organizations had to 'reinvent' the way they do business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Urban Impact Foundation was not immune to having to switch things up in 2020.

The foundation has had a strong focus on sports being a safe haven for kids, something that started back in the early 2000s when the City of Pittsburgh had to cancel kid's activities because of budget issues. At that time, Rev. Dr. Ed Glover, the Founder and President of Urban Impact, talked to Steelers' players who were part of the ministry he did chapel services with, to see if they could get summer activities for kids on the North Side. One of the programs that came from that was 'Play Ball for Kids,' where business leaders sponsored summer sports for the kids. The idea took off and grew to include football clinics and art programs.

This year, though, Urban Impact quickly saw that there was a need far beyond the sports fields.

"We had to start delivering food," said Glover. "We delivered over 100,000 meals and 30,000 acts of service. That made a tremendous impact on our folks. We continued to run some safe programming, but for only a quarter of the kids. The kids that couldn't come, it impacted them in a negative way.

"We started learning labs. We had 75 kids. That helped because kids were falling back educationally. We do day camps after school programs. A lot of the kids, kids in second and third grade didn't even know how to use computers. We made sure they had breakfast and lunch and after school activities until their parents came home. That was really challenging. We had to get laptops, some loaned to us by the schools, others we went out and bought. It was an all-day school program we started."

It's those types of things that have Urban Impact, and other organizations, needing help this year more than ever, and that is where Maurkice Pouncey has stepped up. 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, Pouncey is making a difference. Pouncey has donated a total of $50,000, with $20,000 going to Urban Impact Foundation, $20,000 to the Pittsburgh Public Safety Trust Fund, and $10,000 to the Best of the Batch Foundation, with the Steelers matching the donations for a total of $100,000.

"In the bigger picture this is going to make a change, all of us helping out," said Pouncey. "This social justice program isn't a thing that was just set up just to appease people. It's going to make a difference. That is one of the biggest things, when I saw it moving forward that I can really appreciate about it.

"It's a blessing to see so many players, including younger ones, get involved. They see the bigger picture. They know we are all blessed in a tremendous amount of ways. For us to still be out here, playing football in 2020, with COVID going on, it's an absolute blessing. For those guys to buy in at a young age, and they see that it's bigger than them. They see other people are out there hungry, they see other people out there need that. That is a big plus for sports in general."

Urban Impact, which touches around 2,300 kids a year during normal times, works with the kids to encourage them to continue their education, as well as helping them physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

"From the very beginning, when Maurkice first came to the Steelers, he was engaged with us and has been faithful and consistent," said Glover. "It means a lot to us as an organization and especially the kids. This thing Maurkice is doing for us is huge.

"Maurkice always comes to our events when he can, and his teammates too. I remember a little guy asking me why do these guys come here and do this? I told them because they love you, care about you and want to make a difference. His eyes welled up with tears and said, really Pastor Ed. The wonderful thing about Maurkice is he does it every year and the kids know he cares about them. He is like a big uncle to them who really cares. He shows up, does what he says he is going to do and cares. A lot of our kids don't have fathers. To have a man like Maurkice be consistent and engaged every year means a lot to them."

His loyalty to the community isn't limited to one aspect. His relationship with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, including Scott Schubert, the Chief of Police, is a strong one forged over time and built on mutual respect. That is why he wanted to donate to the Pittsburgh Public Safety Trust Fund, which among other things covers the expenses associated with training for Public Safety personnel and for the purchase of Public Safety Equipment and supplies.

For three seasons, interrupted only in 2020 because of the pandemic, Pouncey has donated tickets to Steelers home games to the Pittsburgh Police for them to take youth in city neighborhoods to games, as well as enjoy a pregame tailgate party inside of Stage AE. The tickets are distributed to different police zones each week, allowing a wide range of kids the opportunity to not only see a game, but spend quality time interacting with the police and getting to know the men and women who are there to protect them.

This year, before state guidelines preventing indoor gatherings, the officers would host the kids at an area venue where they could safely follow all COVID-19 protocols. Pouncey took care of all of the expenses, which included feeding the kids, while making sure the police were able to interact with them to build relationships.

"He is just a good person," said Schubert of Pouncey. "I like that he always says he is blessed. Even through the dark days.

"There is that personal connection with him. He gets it. He gets the importance of the connection between the community and local law enforcement. That is what he strives to do, to help build that bridge, especially with the youth we deal with on a day-to-day basis. The Pittsburgh Police are committed to community engagement. We do a lot with our youth. He helps take it to another level on a connection that might resonate more with younger kids who love football and the Steelers. It's not a partnership, it's a friendship. He is always asking what we need.

"It's been tough with community engagement because of the pandemic, but we know the relationship still needs fostered so we do things a little different. And he helps with that in so many ways."

This year Pouncey has gotten involved with the Pittsburgh Police Athletic League and in particular their boxing league, which is made up of high school kids from the city. He previously made a $10,000 donation to help them, just another example of what he is doing to help strength the bond between the police and the community, especially during a year when tension between the police and community has been at the forefront.

"Chief and I have a really special relationship," said Pouncey. "Just being around him, how he is, how he cares about the entire community, not just the police force, but how he has bought in to the city. The things he does in the community and the changes he makes, that is the only way we are going to make changes, to do it together.

"Everyone in the NFL are not role models and people who give back, but we look at the NFL as a whole," said Pouncey. "Everyone in the police department might not be a great person, but the police department should be looked at as the greatest thing in the world as a whole, just like other organizations are. They do so much for the community and the people."

The 'Best of the Batch Foundation' is the passion of Charlie and Latasha Batch. And Pouncey has seen first-hand the love they have for it. That is why he wanted to help the foundation add more programming for the kids they serve on a daily basis, from providing meals, to more resources for the reading club, homework club, 'Girl Talk' and 'STEAM' programs, as well as the expansion of their facility, which is in the midst of a 33,000 square foot expansion. The new facility will aid them in the growing academic needs the foundation has undertaken, as well as educate participants on social justice initiatives and empower children and their families to make positive, active change in their households, community, and world.

"I'm at a loss of words for what Charlie does in the community," said Pouncey. "It's unbelievable."

He wasn't the only one at a loss for words. Batch was too when he learned of the donation.

"Honestly its humbling," said Batch. "You aren't on the team anymore, but the players still believe in what we are doing. It's humbling to us. When you look back at what we have done, and I get this, I am in awe. I am at a loss of words at this point. It's humbling. We appreciate it.

"This year hasn't been easy. We haven't shut down. we have been opened. We pivoted our thinking. We did the comfort baskets at the beginning of the year. We were trying to help people because nobody knew where to go. When you saw the need the food banks had, we tried to help direct people that way.

"The part we missed the most was serving our kids in the community. We haven't been able to be around them. We miss them, they miss us. When you hear the pitter-patter in the hallways, you are telling them to be quiet, sit down. we miss that. We hope to get that back soon."

The 'comfort baskets' Batch referred to was one of the big undertakings they did in 2020, and Pouncey helped with that back in March as well by making a donation to pay for some of the expenses for 'Comfort in a Basket,' which was delivered to over 100 families in the Mon Valley at the start of the pandemic. The baskets contained some necessities, educational materials, but also things that bring comfort, like blankets and pillows to kids treats that might not be a necessity right now, but still bring happiness.

"We chose 'Comfort in a Basket' because a lot of the bare necessities weren't being met," said Latasha Batch. "But the thing the children we serve like are the little snacks the parents couldn't afford to buy. Whether it's the little cookies in a bag, a bag of chips, candy. We picked all of our kid's favorite items that bring comfort to them. Their snacks and things like that. We provided some food, canned goods, things like that, but we made sure our main purpose was to provide the children some comfort too.

"We did pillows and blankets and microwave popcorn so they could have their movie time. That was the purpose behind that, so they could have something of their own. When you are in the house with three to five kids, you might not even have your own blanket. We take those things for granted."

Like everyone these days, the Best of the Batch Foundation relied on the help of the entire community to keep serving kids, the most recent endeavor their annual toy drive and gift distribution to kids and families throughout the Mon Valley.

"This is our legacy that our family is able to leave behind," said Batch. "It's something our area doesn't have. We are changing the narrative for education to give the kids the tools to be successful in life. To be success, people need to believe in what we are doing. That includes the players and Mr. (Art) Rooney, who wanted to be a part of it. He was there from the beginning, believing in the vision of what we are doing. He said he wanted to be a part of it. That spoke volumes to the work we have done and the belief he has in us to continue to do that work."