By Van Adams, Player Engagement Insider
For Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward, giving back is a family affair. In 2015, with careful consideration and guidance from the Dream Builders organization, the Cameron Heyward Foundation was established. Commonly referred to as “The Heyward House” aptly named after Heyward’s family home, it focuses on two primary causes: children in need and cancer awareness.
“Growing up, everyone wanted to be a part of the Heyward’s house,” Heyward said. “Everyone wanted to come over (to visit).”
The Heyward House supports organizations such as Kids Voice, which provides resources for abused, neglected and at-risk kids; Boys, and Girls Club, and America Cancer Association.
“Each year, year we challenge ourselves to raise more money and get more people involved in Pittsburgh and Atlanta,” said Heyward who was born in Pittsburgh and moved to the Atlanta area while in elementary school. “It’s important to have the right people involved. It makes all the difference in managing a foundation. Working with our sponsors and businesses and other organizations allows us to help more people.”
Heyward’s mother, Charlotte, is the executive director of The Heyward House and his wife, Allie, are very hands-on with the foundation’s events, including efforts to assist the Blessing with a Backpack organization, which provides food on the weekends to elementary school children who might otherwise go hungry.
The Heyward House throws a huge birthday party at Dave and Busters every year around Heyward’s birthday in May. The guest list includes elementary through high school aged kids from all over the city of Pittsburgh.
“Some of these kids never celebrate their birthday,” Heyward said. “Some of them have been separated from their siblings and family in the foster care system. It’s a nice day to focus on kids just being kids. It’s a lot of fun.
“It’s the little things that matter to me. The kids have been through some things that have been tough. At the end of the day, they just want someone on their side, to be there for them to provide opportunities that point them in the right direction. That’s huge for me.”
When the Steelers take the field during week 13, Cameron Heyward will be sporting custom cleats as part of the NFL’s player cause initiative, My Cause, My Cleats, which was launched in 2016 to provide players with an opportunity to show support for the causes and initiatives that are important to them.
“My Cause My Cleats shoe this year focuses on the cancer side, focusing on superheroes. When you have cancer, you want to be a superhero to defeat it,” said Heyward, who worked with Dez Customz to bring the design concept to life. “On one of the shoes is the Hulk crushing cancer, and the other shoe is Magneto who is trying to find the cure for cancer.”
In 2006, during his senior year of high school, Heyward’s father, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, who played 11 seasons in the NFL and collegiately at Pitt, died of a brain tumor at age 39. Heyward has witnessed what cancer looks like, and the physical, mental, and emotional toll it takes on a person.
“My Cause, My Cleats has been a great opportunity to pay tribute not only to my dad, but to everybody going through a struggle,” Heyward said. “In years past, we’ve only recognized breast cancer; this is a great opportunity to recognize people who are suffering from all different types of cancers.”
Heyward has received numerous accolades over the years for his athletic abilities and community service efforts. He was named the Steelers’ Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2015 and continues to work diligently to help improve the lives of others.
This holiday season, The Heyward House plans to support a cystic fibrosis event, and Heyward will participate in a Toys for Tots event with the Steelers organization.
A superhero in his own right, Heyward is a formidable force in helping those in need
Van Adams is an award-winning entrepreneur and small business owner with expertise in sports business and business development. Over the last decade, she has represented a number of iconic sports celebrities and executed marketing campaigns for their personal celebrity and/or business ventures. An advocate for women in business, Van is the creator and producer of Gathering on the Greens, a women’s golf initiative, and serves as President of the Board of Directors for the NYC Metro Chapter of Women in Sports and Events where she oversees programming and strategy. Van is an adjunct professor and often conducts workshops for the small business & sports business communities. She spends her spare time in a test kitchen baking or on a golf course working on her short game.