Bill Cowher and his wife, Kaye, are pretty well settled in Raleigh, N.C., these days, but on Saturday they returned to Pittsburgh to deliver a parting gift to one of their favorite child welfare organizations - Family Resources Inc.
Matt Freed, Post-Gazette photosFormer Steelers head coach Bill Cowher conducts a "mini-camp" for at-risk families at the Family Retreat Center in the North Hills yesterday.
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Steelers Troy Polamalu helps run drills as he assists former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher at a camp for at-risk families at the Family Retreat Center in the North Hills yesterday.
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Along with nearly 200 children from at risk-families, ranging in age from 8 to 13, the Cowhers spent the morning conducting sports clinics on a spiffy new all-purpose court and football field at Family Resources' 238-acre retreat center in Cranberry and Marshall.
Mrs. Cowher, joined by members of the University of Pittsburgh women's basketball team, coached the girls in basketball while her husband and about a half-dozen Steelers put the boys through their paces on the football field.
It was perhaps the best way the Cowhers could think of to commemorate their close 10-year relationship with Family Resources, a non-profit organization dedicated to the treatment and prevention of child abuse. The agency has a staff of 215 and serves more than 20,000 people a year, in an effort to strengthen attachments in at-risk families.
Kaye Cowher has worked closely with the agency's staffers, and every April, the Cowhers have co-chaired Family Resources' annual fund-raising and awards dinner along with Peggy Finnegan and her husband, Mike Donnelly - an event which was "tiny" in the beginning, noted Mrs. Cowher, but which has "grown and grown. You should see it now."
So when Bill Cowher announced last year he was leaving the Steelers to live in North Carolina, the couple decided they didn't want to leave without making a special gesture to Family Resources.
"But we didn't just want to write a check," said Mrs. Cowher, who noted she and her husband had been involved in a $6.2 million capital campaign to expand and refurbish the bucolic, 70-year-old Family Retreat Center, which long served as a summertime escape for poor city children and is now run by Family Resources, serving families year-round who come for workshops on parenting skills, neighborhood safety and leadership training.
"Our lives have revolved around sports, and I'm not saying that because Bill's a professional coach," said Mrs. Cowher. "We really wanted to do something else and asked [Family Resources Executive Director] Walter Smith if it would be OK to help with the new court and field and then do some clinics when we finish it up."
Mr. Smith was more than happy to say yes.
Mr. Smith said the center was "delighted" the Cowhers got involved "by giving kids in mostly poor and working-class families a chance to spend time with heroes of theirs, work with them and really learn about some of the important aspects of a disciplined sport."
The new all-sports court, which the Cowhers personally helped design, "is quite a fancy thing, for lack of a better word," Mr. Smith laughed. "It has a rubberized surface and you can quickly convert from basketball to volleyball to tennis."
It got a good workout at Saturday's event, which included many young people from Family Resources' Beverly Jewel Wall Lovelace Children's Program. The program is based in 19 public and subsidized housing communities in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County and serves about 1,400 children in after-school and summer programming.
Mrs. Cowher said she first heard about Family Resources through a Fox Chapel neighbor, Elizabeth McCarthy, who has been active with the organization for years.
She also recalled her first visit to the agency's therapeutic center, which treats abused children.
"It's an amazing place. I sat down with the kids, and by the time I left, they were hanging on to my legs," she marveled. "Most of the kids we work with are in at-risk situations, and sometimes bad things happen to them by someone who's supposed to love them, but Walter Smith is an amazing man. He does things for the right reasons, and his agency tries to heal the family and make it the way it should be."
"It's really been a great experience for my wife and me," added Bill Cowher. "You see things on television these days, with kids in trouble and you know you have to do something."
A member of North Carolina State's women's basketball team, Mrs. Cowher says coaching young people in the sport "has been a passion for me." The Cowhers' three daughters have excelled in the sport in high school and college and have also volunteered at Family Resources.
"We've done things with other charities, but this one is special, both to us and to our daughters," said Mrs. Cowher. "I'll probably find something in Raleigh, but that doesn't take away how we felt about this organization for all these years. It pleases us to leave something that hopefully a lot of families can enjoy."
Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1949.