Since 1925, the Catholic Youth Association of Pittsburgh has been dedicated to helping the community's most vulnerable members – children and the elderly. Being there for those who need it most was something Art Rooney Sr. believed in, and it has been said often that his favorite charity was the Catholic Youth Association.
To stabilize the Catholic Youth Association's fragile finances, Mr. Rooney began a tradition in 1974 to stabilize the CYA's fragile finances, and the Art Rooney Award Dinner – an event that has been continued by his son, Dan Rooney, and grandson Art Rooney II – celebrated its 38th year on Thursday, April 7 at the Westin Convention Center.
The event annually honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the Pittsburgh community, and the 2011 winner of the Art Rooney Award was Hines Ward. The award was presented by Art Rooney II.
"Hines certainly has been someone who has represented the Steelers organization in the way we want to be represented. He's a quintessential Steeler, and he's been somebody who has used his place in life to help others. That's always been part of the consideration to receiving this award. Hines has been an outstanding player for us and an outstanding citizen, and so it's great that he is able to accept this award."
Hines Ward was the Steelers' second pick in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft, and today he ranks as the most productive wide receiver in franchise history. The MVP of Super Bowl XL, Ward has 11,702 career receiving yards and 83 touchdowns so far.
But as impressive as Hines Ward's on-field accomplishments are his off-the-field contributions. He is actively involved with The Caring Foundation, which benefits families in Western Pennsylvania by raising funds to provide healthcare benefits for children and adults; with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation; with the Salvation Army, particularly as part of Project Bundle-Up; with the Make-A-Wish Foundation; with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh; and with the NFL's "Take a Player to School" program.
But the crown jewel of his community involvement are the initiatives taken on by the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation to benefit children all over the world. His Helping Hands U.S. Foundation focuses on improving literacy among children and will provide programs and services to better equip them for achieving and handling success in life. Abroad, his Helping Hands Korea Foundation, formed as a tribute to his mother, has targeted biracial discrimination, especially as it occurs among the children of Korea.
The list of past Art Rooney Award Winners includes legendary sports figures such as Arnold Palmer, Chuck Noll and Joe Paterno; captains of industry such as U.S. Steel CEO Edgar Speer, Heinz's Tony O'Reilly and PPG's Vince Sarni. Recent recipients also include Jim Broadhurst, Chairman of Eat'n Park Hospitality Group, Terry Bradshaw, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, Jerome Bettis and PNC Chairman/CEO Jim Rohr and PNC President Sy Holzer.
Over the past 86 years, the CYA has been a neighborhood community center, and it's currently based at the Stephen Foster Center in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh. It operates five sites and serves over 2,000 people with over 170,000 services per year.
Included among the CYA's social, educational and health-related programs: a summer residential camp for over 200 boys and girls ages 7-14; meals on wheels; health and wellness activities for seniors; a pre-school program that prepares neighborhood children for kindergarten; transportation programs for the elderly; and an intergenerational program that brings seniors and pre-school children together to share things such as holiday parties and games.
"The CYA has been around for a long time, and this particular dinner was started by my grandfather to help make sure the organization was able to continue," said Art Rooney II. "When the CYA first started, it was strictly the Catholic Youth Association, and while it still helps youth with various programs but it also helps senior citizens now. It's an organization that helps people in various parts of our community who need help; it's an organization my grandfather felt strongly enough about that he got behind this dinner many years ago and made sure he was providing support to it.
"The CYA does a great job protecting the part of our population that needs assistance, and it's great to carry on that level of support to an organization that was so important to my grandfather."