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Steelers stars lend helping hand to Pittsburghers

| Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Two Pittsburgh Steelers who have made millions on the playing field are giving back to the community.

Troy Polamalu, the Steelers safety known for his bone-crushing tackles, and his wife, Theodora, want to help injured veterans. Steelers receiver Hines Ward is supporting children's literacy.

The Polamalus and Ward have set up funds at The Pittsburgh Foundation, officials from the Downtown-based community foundation announced Monday. It's part of the Sports Outreach Initiative, a program started last year to encourage philanthropy by professional athletes.

"Pittsburgh is our home now," said Theodora Polamalu, 24, of Pine. "We spend nine months out of the year in Pittsburgh. We wanted to do something that would give back to the community but was also an institution we could trust."

The Pittsburgh Foundation manages $742 million and last year awarded $33.7 million in grants. Jim Roddey, a board member of The Pittsburgh Foundation, said establishing a fund there removes the paperwork hassle of starting a private foundation.

In addition, he said, donors can tap the foundation's staff of experts on senior citizens, children, the arts, education, human services and health to recommend worthy agencies.

The Polamalus created the Harry Panos Fund in honor of Theodora Polamalu's grandfather, a World War II veteran. He served as an artilleryman in the battles of Okinawa and Saipan.

She said her husband became interested in veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan last year after he had visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital. He was inspired by a young woman about 18 or 19 years old, who had lost her limbs in combat in Iraq.

Theodora Polamalu serves on the foundation's Sports Outreach Advisory Committee. She said the family's philanthropy will probably focus on World War II veterans and those from Iraq and Afghanistan facing health problems and other issues.

"Right now, it's going to be veterans in Pittsburgh," she said. "We want this to grow throughout the United States."

Roddey, chairman of the advisory committee, praised the causes that Ward and the Polamalus are supporting.

"We have in this region one of highest concentrations of veterans anywhere in the country," he said.

Theodora Polamalu and officials at The Pittsburgh Foundation declined to say how much the athletes contributed. The foundation's 1,100 funds range in size from the minimum $10,000 to $40 million.

"It's a decent start, and it's going to be lot more," Theodora Polamalu said. "We'll be adding a significant amount to it very soon."

Ward and Troy Polamalu join Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks in the foundation's sports initiative. Roddey expects other Steelers and players from the Pirates and Penguins to join.

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