With the Pirates playing the New York Mets and the Carson Scholars Fund’s (CSF) 11th Annual Pittsburgh Banquet, Heinz Field was teeming (pun intended) with excitement. The regal routine of entering through the club entrance, taking the special elevators to the second floor lounge and exiting into a world of starry wonder made all the celebrants of academic excellence feel welcome. The newest stars on the horizon were of course the Carson Scholars and to emphasize the point, 20-inch balloons in gold, red and blue hues hovered above many of the tables. Each balloon had four smaller well-rounded gold ones just below the star, representative of the parents, educators, families and mentors who support the academic superstars! Read more.
80 degrees and sunny! What a fabulous day to do fabulous things and on the fabulous occasion of the landmark TENTH Scholar Awards Ceremony for the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Carson Scholars Fund! In the hall of the East Club Lounge area of Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers Football Team, the 91 new scholars and 152 repeat scholars from Ohio and Pennsylvania marched in to the triumphant musical fanfare. Read more.
Congratulations to Jerome Bettis, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back, on being elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, January, 31, 2015! Bettis is a CSF Honorary and Pittsburgh Chapter Board Member. Read more.
As you enter the famed Andy Warhol Museum, the walls on both sides of the 8-foot-wide ramp had rows of 5-fold-stacked pink cows leading to a unique venue filled with visual delights!
Silver fifteen-foot high brick walls reflected the multi-bulb blue spotlights. Floor-to-ceiling windows were shaded by steel gray velvet curtains, which completed the background canvas for showcasing exhibits. Several Hi-definition television monitors were strategically mounted, where a power point presentation repeatedly played. It presented a welcome page, sponsors’ logos, various sponsor pages and a very special thank you page to Dr. Carson and Dr. Costa.
Two buffets surrounded the stage and hot gourmet appetizers were passed while guests mingled and placed bids on silent auction items. The 2-foot-wide by 6-foot-long trestle-like tables were part of the modern, artistic flair of the venue. These tables created an aisle separating the steel mesh tables with coordinating chairs from the plush, stuffed upholstered sofas and armchairs. Around the sofas and armchairs were several high-top, round tables draped in black cloth. The three person band, Terrance Vaughn Trio, produced a melodious sound which had everyone rockin’! Pittsburgh’s famous signature dessert, the Eat’n Park smiley-faced sugar cookies, had a wide array of colors as facial features!
Bob Pompeani, from KDKA-TV, opened the program as Emcee. With his usual flair, he welcomed everyone to the new venue, while a 4-by-6-foot Warhol headshot of Marilyn Monroe gazed over the crowd from the mural on the wall. He first introduced Billy Aiken, a newly recognized scholar and senior at St. Joseph’s High School. Currently captain of the school’s Math Geeks Team, which competes with other teams from public and private high schools, he also enjoys forensics and singing in musicals. Next fall when Billy attends St. Vincent College on a full scholarship, he plans to major in actuarial science.
Billy shared his joy of becoming a scholar this year and commented on how precious life is due to its temporal nature. He encouraged all to adopt the best attitude to live their life for themselves and not try to live someone else’s life. He reflected on Dr. Carson’s life and agreed that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you is you!
Dr. Al Costa, founder and President of the Pittsburgh Chapter, thanked the scholar for his remarks and expressed his appreciation for the support of everyone. He stated, “this young man demonstrates what your generosity can accomplish! And there are over 900 scholars like him in the Pittsburgh area!” Then the ladies of Costa Land Company were fervently praised by Dr. Costa for all their diligent efforts in organizing the event. Led by the extremely capable Sarah Piccione, they have successfully organized 11 fundraisers, as well as the same number of exquisitely decorated banquets!
Afterwards, Dr. Costa introduced Jerome Bettis, a former Pittsburgh Steelers football player. Dr. Costa discussed how Jerome Bettis broke the 5th all-time NFL record of leading rushes. Having just purchased a new expensive watch, Dr. Costa presented it to Jerome on the spot, to celebrate this accomplishment. Shortly after that, when Jerome’s rushing status was surpassed by another player in the NFL, Dr. Costa asked for his watch back, however he never received it. At this point, there were chuckles from the audience. Immediately after, Jerome stood at the podium and began with “that watch was placed on ebay.” Laughter ensued as the crowd recognized the characteristic banter of these two long-time close friends.
Jerome said the reason why the event was held was “to celebrate a man who has an incredible vision for our children. It’s important to think about our children and their future.” He said now that he has children of his own, he recognizes this even more and shared his appreciation for his lovely wife, Trameka, who does a phenomenal job of raising them. He then proceeded to say that “it takes all of our help and resources to produce kids like Billy Aiken. That’s why I come every year. Your presence here shows that you care as well.” With his closing remarks, he thanked everyone for coming and supporting the leaders of the future.
Dr. Costa started to introduce his friend, Dr. Carson, but then stopped by saying, “he doesn’t need an introduction, since he’s known all over the world.”
Dr. Carson expressed his appreciation to all in attendance, as well as to the Pittsburgh chapter, the ladies of Costa Land Company, and all of the volunteers. He revealed that Pittsburgh is now the model for all the other chapters around the country, citing it as having the most NINE-TIME scholar winners in the country! His remarks centered around the point that “education as the great divide” in America. He stated, “education is the key that separates those who have and those who have not. If anyone avails themselves to a good education they can pretty much write their own ticket!” He discussed how he grew up in Detroit, like Jerome, and how it used to be one of the most prosperous cities in the nation, but now has the largest bankruptcy.
In spite of the problems connected with growing up in the Detroit ghetto and being the “dummy” of the class, he overcame his dire start under the direction of a wise mother and a person of faith.
Even though she only received a 3rd grade education, she realized that reading could make a huge difference. Although young Ben didn’t enjoy it at first, he understood that he learned through reading. “Reading made all the difference in the world in terms of the trajectory of my life.”
In medical school, Dr. Carson didn’t do so well on his first set of exams, so his counselor told him that he “wasn’t cut out to be a doctor and should drop out.” Dr. Carson reassessed the situation, prayed and realized that in the past he didn’t do well in classes where he listened to lectures and that he did best in classes where he did a lot of reading. So he decided instead of attending classes, which he got nothing from, he would purchase the scribed notes from the classes, and spend all that time reading the notes and texts. After that medical school was easier!
He gave a short summary of why the Carson Scholars Fund was started with the scholar recognition program, and then with the Reading Room projects. He then cited alarming statistics in the United States concerning high school graduates. 20-30% of high school freshmen do not graduate in this country and 70-80% of them are functionally illiterate and cannot fill out a job application. Therefore, it is important to help motivate the young people to develop themselves. “Everyone is a part of the fabric of this country. The stronger the fabric, the stronger the country.” He asked that the audience bid and get auction items. He said “the proceeds from tonight will go towards the next 100 scholars, which will bring Pittsburgh’s total to over 1,000 scholars! This is a great example for the rest of the country.” He ended his comments with special thanks to the professional football players who care about the next generation.
For the live auction that followed, emcee Bob Pompeani returned and invited scholar Billy Aiken forward so bidders could see where their money was going. Two incomparable pieces of diamond jewelry, golf with Jerome at Oakmont Club and dinner for 6 with Jerome Bettis were the main attractions! The bidding took on even more life when now coach and former Steelers player, Joey Porter, was invited forward and asked to lead the auction. As the words spewed forth from his lips, the bidding levels rose quickly to reach the final lofty number of $20,000!
Special thanks go to Dr. Al Costa, Sarah Piccione, Samantha Hirshberg, Kristin Malagise and Mandy Carragher.
To view coverage on the Pittsburgh Fundraiser, click here.