Reaching out to help the most vulnerable

When the idea for the Steelers' Social Justice Grant program was being discussed, one of the things everyone involved wanted to help the vulnerable in the Pittsburgh community.

And the organization did just that with three separate donations today.

As a part of the Social Justice Grant program the Steelers donated $30,000, which includes $10,000 each to the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, Jeremiah's Place and Bethlehem Haven, three organizations that genuinely help the most vulnerable in Pittsburgh – women and children.

The Women's Center and Shelter has been providing a safe haven and shelter for survivors of domestic violence for over 45 years. They aid women and children who escape abusive relationships, often times with nothing but the clothes on their back. They provide housing, meals, and social services to help them get through the trauma and land back on their feet.

"I am so appreciative of the Steelers support. They are awesome," said Nicole Molinaro, President and CEO of the Women's Center & Shelter. "This donation has multiple meanings for us. The most obvious is the tangible support the Steelers provides really allows us to better serve our clients. We are able to reach more people with more funding and serve them in a meaningful way, providing for whatever needs they have, whether it's providing safety, emotional support, legal advocacy or any number of services or needs. It's extraordinarily helpful and priceless for us in that manner."

Statistics show that one in four women are in abusive relationships. The last three years the need for the shelter has grown as they went from serving 5,000 adult and child survivors to over 8,000, with the need for financial assistance growing.

But it's more than that. It's the support in general that holds weight as well.

"It's knowing the Steelers are behind our cause," said Molinaro. "It means a lot to the women we serve to know that athletes who are famous and work within the community really believe that domestic violence is wrong, bad and something we as a society should help with. It helps the victims come out and not have the shame that is normally associated with domestic violence. The more people of influence who come out and say domestic violence is not okay, it really helps in a meaningful way for those experiencing intimate partner violence and don't want to reach out for help.

"We know it's difficult to get help and say what is going in in your personal relationship. We are serving more people, doing more outreach programs. We are reaching victims in new and different ways than before. Physical is the most obvious form of abuse and one of the forms against the law. The emotional, psychological, financial and spiritual abuse isn't against the law, so it's not recognized and there are no bruises left behind. It's easier for people to not recognize it when we know it can be as or more destructive than physical violence. But the more people who step up and say it's wrong, the more people will step forward to get the help."

Jeremiah's Place can best be described as a safe, warm, welcoming place for children. They protect kids and work to strengthen families by proving a safe haven, as well as support for the kids when the families are experiencing difficult situations and need a place where their child can be safe.

Jeremiah's Place, which opened in 2014, has served more than 400 kids with emergency and crisis related child care, in cases where a family member might have to escape an abusive situation, but doesn't have anyone to help care for their child while they are at work. They nurture the children, while providing them with all of the basics and services that children need.

"It means everything to us that the Steelers are helping us," said Lisa Perry, Executive Director of Jeremiah's Place. "Our work is not done in isolation. It does take a greater community for us to do the support and work. For the Steelers to select Jeremiah's Place, it means the world to us.

"We know they are a family organization by the sheer nature of the Rooney family. For them to recognize the importance of strengthening families and children like we do at Jeremiah's Place makes sense that we would be able to jointly do that and offer support to our families whose sole goal is to conduct themselves in the way the family does, which is strengthening and supporting their own."

Steelers players have been involved with Jeremiah's Place in the past, doing autograph signings to help raise funds for the organization.

"Young players come to Pittsburgh and get tethered to the community and see the importance of giving back," said Perry. "Seeing the players are nested in the community, which is what team is all about, building community. For players to recognize the importance of giving back and changing the story for others is phenomenal."

Bethlehem Haven has been around for almost 40 years, serving the homeless women in the Pittsburgh area who in many cases find themselves in their desperate situations because of no fault of their own.

Over the years it has grown from a place for them to stay warm and sleep, to a shelter where they are provided meals, compassionate care and crisis intervention. More recently it started to offer programs that include health and wellness services, so their needs are constantly growing.

"It's special the Steelers are recognizing how overlooked vulnerable women are in our community," said Deborah Linhart, CEO of Bethlehem Haven. "When you combine poverty with a lack of affordable housing, the women, a lot of them single women, are trying to find a place they can afford. Most homeless families are headed by single women, many trying to escape domestic violence. Women are saying I would rather leave my house than stay with him. It's not just spousal or partner abuse, but it's children beating their parents and taking everything away from them. It's in well-to-do areas too. Homelessness can impact anyone. It's just one thing going wrong in life."

Statistics have found that it's single women with children and single women over 50 who are the largest population of homeless women in the Pittsburgh area.

"They have no nuclear family or pension. These are women we are trying to prevent from going homeless," said Linhart. "They are trying to make the decisions of what to pay, the rent or food. We help them pay the landlords to keep them in good standings. So many Americans don't have savings. They are so close to having to making tough decisions. Within eight years 30 percent of Pittsburghers over 65 are at risk for homelessness.

"The homeless walk amongst us. You walk past them on the streets. Not everyone who is homeless holds a sign. These are women who are working. But you can't pay the utilities and rent if you are making $11 an hour. It can be an endless cycle.

"It's an unseen population that is out there and I am so thankful for the Steelers taking on our cause. People think of homeless as being dangerous, but mostly they are just down on their luck. The ladies we house here are so appreciative of what we do. The homeless women walk amongst us and nobody meets them in the eye. When you see someone on the side of the road, most people just look away and that just re-enforces the idea that I am invisible, nobody sees me, I am not worth anything. Just give them the gift of eye contact."

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