When the letters are given to him by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, it's hard for Ben Roethlisberger not to feel a wave of emotion. Whether it's a young child writing to thank him for making their dream of going to Disney World come true, or a girl excited because her room got a makeover, Roethlisberger is always filled with joy knowing he put a smile on a child's face, helping them forget their struggles at least for a while.
"To see those letters, to hear about the kids, it touches my heart because I love the kids," said Roethlisberger.
And on Sunday night, Roethlisberger went back to work helping to make more dreams come true, hosting his second annual Ben Roethlisberger Foundation fundraiser at Jergel's Rhythm Grille, which benefits the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia and K-9 Police and Fire Units.
"It means a lot to be able to come out and have fun and raise money for the foundation, Make-A-Wish and the K-9 units," said Roethlisberger, who is also hosting a golf outing on Monday. "It's awesome to have my teammates and friends come out and support it."
Roethlisberger's teammates were on hand giving their full support, including Heath Miller, Maurkice Pouncey, Brett Keisel, Kelvin Beachum, Landry Jones, offensive line coach Jack Bicknell and former Steelers running back Merril Hoge, who loves seeing the work he is doing.
"The Steelers have always given back and been involved in the community," said Hoge. "Ben has the ability to reach out to a wide audience based on the kind of player he is. Seeing him give back and serve is always critical and important. I think he sees there is more reward in giving back and serving others than getting cheered by 65,000 fans."
Roethlisberger's Foundation began by providing K-9 grants to police and fire departments in the Pittsburgh area, as well as cities where the Steelers play. To date the foundation has funded the purchase of 66 dogs, in addition to the training of dogs and handlers, and the purchase of safety equipment.
His passion for granting wishes through Make-A-Wish gave him the idea to expand the work of his foundation, raising funds to help grant wishes as well.
"If I can make a wish come true for them and give them one day of being happy, it means a lot to me."
Last year alone Roethlisberger helped grant 14 wishes, while raising $25,000 to fund wishes, a unique combination not often seen.
"When you see the kids when Ben comes across the field and calls out their name, and starts joking with them and interacting, that is so meaningful," said Leigh Ann Lubarsky, the manager of program services at Make-A-Wish. "But we can't grant the wishes without the funds to support. Both mean so much. It seems so effortless by him to do all of this."
The fundraiser included a live and silent auction, as well as a performance by The American Flyers. And while there was plenty of laughter and smiles, none of it will match the happiness those that benefit from the night will enjoy.
"It means a lot to me," said Roethlisberger. "We are in such an awesome spot. I have such an opportunity to give back to the community I call home. Pittsburgh is home to me. I love doing things for the community, for the kids, for people, just helping out.
"This is a small thing I feel I can do to help."
Ben and Ashley Roethlisberger and Brett Keisel
Jack Bicknell and Heath Miller
Ben Roethlisberger and Leigh Ann Lubarsky from Make-A-Wish