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Pitt players lead in nonprofit Orange Arrow mentoring program

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, July 13, 2016, 10:03 p.m.
University of Pittsburgh football player Dontez Ford, center, jokes around with Jaiyson Lewis, 11, (right), as Tyvon Johnson, 12, (left) sits by with Jaison Brown, 11, (back left) during a scavenger hunt in the Cathedral of Learning as part of the Orange Arrow Program on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
University of Pittsburgh football player Dontez Ford, center, jokes around with Jaiyson Lewis, 11, (right), as Tyvon Johnson, 12, (left) sits by with Jaison Brown, 11, (back left) during a scavenger hunt in the Cathedral of Learning as part of the Orange Arrow Program on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.
Pitt linebacker Mike Caprara with (left to right) Emanuel Abram, 12, Derrick Steele, 13, and Jordan Franklin, 11, during a scavenger hunt in the Cathedral of Learning as part of the Orange Arrow program on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Pitt linebacker Mike Caprara with (left to right) Emanuel Abram, 12, Derrick Steele, 13, and Jordan Franklin, 11, during a scavenger hunt in the Cathedral of Learning as part of the Orange Arrow program on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.
University of Pittsburgh football player Mike Caprara, left, helps Emanuel Abram, 12, of McKees Rocks during a scavenger hunt in the Cathedral of Learning as part of the Orange Arrow Program on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
University of Pittsburgh football player Mike Caprara, left, helps Emanuel Abram, 12, of McKees Rocks during a scavenger hunt in the Cathedral of Learning as part of the Orange Arrow Program on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.

A group of 22 young people from four area neighborhoods marched into the Cathedral of Learning on Wednesday afternoon. They moved from room to room, up and down the first six of the Oakland skyscraper's 40 floors, soaking up culture from the Nationality Rooms.

Led by five Pitt football players, the students from the non-profit Orange Arrow organization were instructed to respect the famously quiet atmosphere of the Cathedral while finding and photographing artifacts and images from the different rooms in a two-hour scavenger hunt.

The only rule: Stay off the elevators. After all, the college guys who served as escorts always could use another workout — they report to training camp in less than a month.

The venture was just one part of Orange Arrow's mentoring program, started three years ago by former Pitt football player Shawn Robinson. Its goal: Teach young student-athletes how to act off the field.

Or, as 12-year-old Tyvon Johnson of McKees Rocks responded when asked what he learns from Orange Arrow: “Respect.”

“There are so many coaches showing a young kid how to catch a football, hit a baseball, get off the starting blocks,” Robinson said. “Who is showing them how to be successful in life?”

Robinson said the lessons range from “leadership to their decorum.”“We expose them to arts and cultures and build cross-cultural relationships,” he said.

Robinson recruits young people ages 10-13 from diverse neighborhoods, including Regent Square, McKees Rocks, Shadyside and Wilkinsburg. He will expand this year into the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Then he uses Pitt football players as speakers who sometimes just listen to what's on the kids' minds.

“We pretty much come to be a melting pot, like a Division I locker room would look like — black, white, all different backgrounds,” Robinson said. “At Pitt, they come together to win a game. At Orange Arrow, we come together to win the game of life.”

Senior linebacker Matt Galambos simply described his role as “trying to be a role model, a friend.”

Said cornerback Ryan Lewis: “We have kids, they don't have a lot of people that they trust.”

“There is so much more you can do off the field than on the field,” senior linebacker Mike Caprara said.

Caprara, Galambos and Lewis were joined Wednesday by wide receivers Dontez Ford and Kellen McAlone. Cornerback Avonte Maddox is also part of the program.

Ford, a finance and marketing major from Sto-Rox, has no plans to make counseling his career, but he also doesn't want to miss the opportunity to help. The mother of one of the Orange Arrow kids ran the community center in McKees Rocks when Ford was younger.

“I feel like I have a responsibility as a black man to give back to my community and mentor our youth and show them a good example,” he said. “They need somebody positive to look up to.

“To be able to do something like this means the world to me, and it's something I plan on continuing to do whether I'm working in counseling or youth mentoring or I'm working in a bank.”

There is no charge to the 75 students who participate in the program.

Orange Arrow operates on a $250,000 budget, thanks to gifts from the Heinz Endowments, sponsorships from UPMC and Highmark and a personal donation from former Woodland Hills, Pitt and NFL player Lousaka Polite.

Robinson plans a black-tie ball fundraiser Sept. 9 — the night before the Pitt/Penn State game — at Auto Palace Porsche on Baum Boulevard. Former players from both schools are expected to attend.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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