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 in December, and it continues today with multiple players teaming up and making a difference in the community.
The Steelers and the United Way, a relationship that was formed more than 40 years ago, is still going strong today, handed down from generations of the Rooney family, as well as generations of players.
And in the past year, when the need in the community became stronger than ever, the Steelers continued that bond, helping with different programs run by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania (UWSWPA) to aid those greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the effects of the pandemic, one that many don't see is much, is how the number of disconnected youth, which are young people between 16-24 who are not in school or working, is growing. In 2010, that rate was 14.7% after the Great Recession. In 2018 the number dropped to 11.2%. While the number isn't out yet for 2020, the estimate is that the disconnection rate could reach as high as 25%, a scary number for young people.
In the spring of 2020, unemployment was three times higher for young workers than it was in 2019, and the rates were even higher among young Black workers. According to the United Way's Pulse Report, an estimated 31,700 young workers, between the ages of 16-24, faced unemployment in the five-county region. The 2019 spring unemployment rate nationally was 8.4%. In the spring of 2020, that rate jumped to 24.4%, and 29.6% for young Black workers.
They are concerning numbers, numbers that many are focusing on to try and turn them around, including through the United Way's 'United for Children' program. The program, one of the many the agency does that is focused on youth, is working toward maximizing investment impact to reduce racial, gender and ability inequities.
"We are really focused on early childhood, school success, through helping kids through high school and then post-secondary or whatever options they are looking at after this," said Julie DeSeyn, Chief Program and Policy Officer for the UWSWPA. "What we are seeing through the pandemic, and we don't even have all of the data yet, but kids who are just getting disengaged. If you were thinking about dropping out of school before, when the pandemic hit you are dropped out.
"Disengaged youth are kids who are normally in the 14-24 range who aren't in school or working. We are thinking that is going to be higher than ever. We are working with schools, human services, and other programs that help kids recapture credits and help them think about the future."
The United Way staff aren't the only ones thinking about the future. Steelers players are as well. 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, players made a donation to the United Way.
"I am very happy that a number of our players have contributed to several important community programs through the United Way," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "The United Way and its volunteers identify community programs that are effectively addressing critical needs in our community, and I am pleased that the Steelers organization and our players are able to partner to make these resources available."
Among the players donating were Marcus Allen, Antoine Brooks Jr., Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith, Mike Hilton Justin Layne and Cameron Sutton, who combined to donate $48,000, which was matched by the team for a of total of $96.000. The programs the players donated to include Connecting Youth at Risk for Referral to Juvenile Justice, United for Children and Maximizing Investment Impact to Reduce Race, Gender and Ability Inequity.
"It is really important to do this for these programs," said Sutton. "We are talking about an opportunity that is not just monetary, it is life changing. It's a lifelong process that we are all ready and willing to endure. We have had fulfillment and excitement and enjoyable memories we share with the kids through the United Way programs, and this opportunity to help is even more special to us. I always want to give back and create opportunities for kids who might not have the same ones we had, to help them get through the things they are going through."
This is the third year Steelers players have supported United Way programs through the Social Justice Grant program, making a solid commitment to give back.
"The work that the Steelers organization overall and players specifically support through the Social Justice Fund provides important resources for United Way programs that help children lead better lives, to provide services and tools that help them succeed," said Bobbi Watt Geer, President and CEO of the UWSWPA. "Our joint commitment to social justice in the Pittsburgh region can be life-changing for young people. We greatly appreciate this important partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers organization."
Investing in the Pittsburgh community is something that the players take great pride in. They understand the example that has been set for them from players through the years, and they want to continue that tradition.
"You are talking about the pride of a city, pride of one, togetherness," said Sutton. "The City of Pittsburgh does so much within the community itself. We are whole. We are a family. Every time we step out there on the field, we have relentless fans week in and week out, especially with the trying times right now. We might not have had them in person this year, but they were at home, tuning in and being locked in and behind us. They show their appreciation for us, so it's our obligation to give back to the city and the people who need us."
And the need this year, it's been like no other. The United Way, through their 2-1-1 line, has served more people than ever before, with calls to their help line doubling.
"It has definitely been crazy," said DeSeyn. "It makes us more thankful than ever for the Steelers contributions. relationship with Steelers. From the leadership of Mr. (Art) Rooney (II) for so many years, including as a board chair, and his calm, cool, but very strategic and thoughtful approach. He does the right thing. From that, to the players, to the Draft-A-Thon than benefitted us, it was amazing in terms of what that turned around for Pittsburgh.
"It's been very intense for everyone this year. We found ourselves to be in a good position to have an impact because we are the nexus with so many different agencies. We were able to build on relationships to make things happen. It was a lot of work but fulfilling to know we were able to work to help leverage money to get food for people who needed it, while at the same time help restaurants keep going. We have helped connect a lot of people to resources, and so much of that was through the Steelers funds through the Draft-A-Thon, where we set up an emergency basic needs network.
"And now, the focus of the players donation on social justice is so fantastic. We are so thankful and appreciative of the social justice aspect. To have a portion of it going directly to helping those most at risk is really great."
Donations made by some of the players is going to Connecting Youth at Risk for Referral to Juvenile Justice, working with Gwen's Girls and the County Department of Human Services to help youth before they head down the wrong path.
"It's critical. As soon as you can say you are on a bad path and you have such potential to be on a great path, let's change the direction here, the better," said DeSeyn. "One of the things we have been talking about a lot during this time is when the heat turns up a little bit at a time, and a little bit at a time, it's hard to notice. If you can call attention and interfere before it goes all the way up and work with them first, it's a game changer.
"It's awesome to see these young men, these Steelers players, players I watch every weekend, and to know they care about these issues and they are putting significant dollars towards solving these problems in our community. To me that is so Pittsburgh. It's very meaningful and we are deeply appreciative to know they care about more than touchdowns and tackles. They give back to their community and that is really great."