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Porter: 'It was tough not knowing'

Hall of Famer Mel Blount honored Joey Porter at the 19th Annual Mel Blount All-Star Celebrity Roast.

When Mel Blount thought about the person he wanted to honor at the Mel Blount 19th Annual All-Star Celebrity Roast, he thought about someone who shared the same passion he has for helping children.

Blount has operated his Youth Home, and recently launched the Mel Blount Youth Leadership Initiative, since his playing days came to a close, aiding countless kids who need nurturing, guidance and someone who cares.  

He soon found out Steelers' outside linebackers coach Joey Porter is doing a similar thing.

"It's great that we share that passion," said Blount. "I knew there was something about Joey. I just knew he was a good guy. I've always believed in him when he played and got to know him. I am happy he is doing some good things. "

While Porter was 'roasted' at the dinner, which was emceed by one of his closest friends, Jerome Bettis, and is the major fundraiser for Blount's Youth Leadership Initiative, he was also honored for the commitment he has made to help kids with special needs, a commitment that came from deep inside. 

Porter is a loving husband and father of four, including a daughter Jasmine, for whom he has shed many tears in the past over the battles she has faced, but today does everything in his power to help her and others in similar situations fight their battles.

"It all came about when we were living here in Pittsburgh and my second daughter Jasmine was two," shared Porter. "I just had Joey Jr. and he was catching on fast. Jazzy wasn't moving the speed of (my first daughter) Jayla had, the progress rate we thought she was supposed to. We took her to the doctor and they said she is going to be developmentally delayed. It's just going to be slower than normal. I thought I can live with that.

"But when Joey Jr. became one and Jazzy was two he passed her. I was thinking he is walking and she is barely crawling and he is one and she is two.

"We went to Children's Hospital and it was good to get the proper diagnosis of knowing she has autism. She is not verbal. She will never speak. She will need care year round for the rest of her life. She has it harder than some. You see some kids and say, oh he is autistic. He might still graduate, walk across the stage, carry on a conversation. He might be a little slower mentally than the next, but that is different from your daughter never, ever being able to speak. It's all type of stuff."

Knowing what their daughter was battling wasn't easy, but it was better than not knowing at all.

"It was tough not knowing," said Porter. "The problem was it kept me and my wife Christy up late at night not knowing what it was and how can you help. You started thinking how did it happen. What did we do, how did this happen. The labor was tough. I remember that. Instead of trying to look for why it happened, finding blame, God had a plan and he made her the way she is for a reason."

The Porter's soon found out what that reason was, for them to do something to help others. The thought was to open a school for children with special needs, and Christy went back to school to get certified.

"It came about when Jazzy got to a certain age and we couldn't find a school that would take somebody for a whole day," said Porter. "You have kids with special needs, different problems they have, and no place offered more than four hours. If you are a working person you couldn't do that. We needed something for people that worked. It was amazing back home how many families we found that had kids with special needs. We started realizing how many people need the same services that don't have the outlets we have. A lot of people are going through the same thing, but don't have the resources we have, so how can we help them?"

From their passion came Jasmine Nyree Day Center in their hometown of Bakersfield, California, a place where children ages 3-12 could get the attention, the teaching, the development they needed and not for just a few hours a day like some places, but all day. Once that was launched, a second one came about, encompassing the older kids all the way through high school. And then a third one opened, just outside of Bakersfield.

"We wanted to make it a home for kids with special needs so when you walk into the school, nobody is just staring at you," said Porter. "We had our daughter be stared at and that is an uncomfortable feeling for everybody. Where can they go that they aren't being stared at the whole time? When you come to the Jasmine Nyree Center everybody has something going on, so everybody is normal. They all have problems, and they all know how to deal with them. They get the attention and love they deserve. We created an environment where you can safeguard the kids and the parents can feel good where they know their kids are taken care of while at work."

Porter, who said they are even considering opening a facility for adults, was surprised to find out Blount wanted to honor him for their work, as it's not something he talks about often or seeks attention for.

"Whenever you have the opportunity to get an award from Mel himself, there are a lot of people he could give an award," said Porter. "I thought what did I do to deserve this? The fact that he has paid attention to what we do is special. We just want to help."

Mission accomplished. And then some. Not only has Porter helped countless kids, but he is also helping Blount with his efforts for his Youth Home.

"This event is so important to us and it's great for Joey to be a part of it," said Blount. "It's our largest fundraiser. It helps sustain us. If we didn't have the event it would be difficult to keep the doors open. It's our lifeblood. It allows us to take care of the facility, develop programs. It's everything to us."   * *If you would like to help Blount in his efforts, please click on **Mel Blount Youth Leadership Initiative. **

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