Guests at the 12th annual Mel Blount Youth Home All-Star Celebrity Roast knew they were in for a treat as the line of NFL players and coaches, past and present, entered the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel April 16.
Being honored that night was Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Following in Steelers tradition, Ward is known for his efforts on and off the field as a four-time NFL Pro Bowl selection and a devoted philanthropist.
|STEELERS FOR LIFE—Surprise guest Jerome Bettis, left, with Hines Ward and Mel Blount, share many laughs at the roast.
“I understand what it means to be a true Pittsburgh Steeler,” Ward said. “Being honored at the dinner means something because it reflects what I do outside of football, too. Even though we are not paid to be role models, we are role models.”
The celebrity roast benefited the Mel Blount Youth Home, a residential program in Claysville, Pa. The home provides mental, physical and spiritual development for troubled boys ages 7-17.
Past roast honorees include former Steelers Franco Harris, Joe Greene and Lynn Swann, who served as the night’s master of ceremonies. Each event has raised more than $300,000 for the youth home.
“We just kind of accidentally fell into this. The original idea was just to get some friends together for my 50th birthday and here we are 12 years later,” Blount said. “We had the roast and we wound up raising a couple hundred thousand dollars so we said, we need to do this every year.”
Through Blount’s connections, boys in the home are presented with positive male role models on a daily basis. The roast served as another opportunity for them to be exposed to some of their sports heroes.
“You have corporations that spend money to be in the presence of those guys and the fans get a chance to interact with the local celebrities,” Blount said. “But really the children get to see these guys and see they can one day be successful, whether it’s sports or business.”
Thanks to the work of Blount and his supporters, the home has produced many success stories. Several young men from the program were given the opportunity to speak about how their experience has helped them.
“You want kids to get up and have them be honest about what they think about the home. We want them to speak from the heart,” Blount said. “We try to teach the basic Christian principles of living and these kids know they can do anything they want to do. We don’t have any excuses for not succeeding.”
Shining through the sea of other sports stars was Blount and his wife, TiAnda, who were the subject of high praise from many of the guests.
“It’s a fundraiser to support the effort and vision of Mel Blount to establish safety and well-being for our youth,” said Lanita Iverson. “Mel provides unconditional love for our youth.”
Despite the recent controversy surrounding the Steeler franchise, many said the event was an example of the best of what sports can offer to youth.
“It’s a wonderful event that brings people together who understand the importance of sports in the lives of youth,” said Adrianne Smith. “I believe sports teaches children how to make the right choices.”
(A complete photo spread of the event will be in next week’s paper.)