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Hines Ward lends helping hand to literacy, mixed-race kids

Image: Hines Ward with biracial children from South Korea
Hines Ward with biracial children from South Korea at Heinz Field for a Pittsburgh Steelers gamePittsburgh Steelers/Mike Fabus
/ Source: NBC News

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with Hines Ward, wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers and winner of this season's "Dancing with the Stars" competition, about the

The charitable organization works to improve literacy among inner-city children. It has also branched out to help biracial kids facing discrimination in South Korea. This is a personal issue for Ward, who was born in South Korea to an African American father and Korean mother.

Ward, the longest-tenured player on the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a four-time Pro Bowler and the Super Bowl XL MVP.

Interview conducted via e-mail by Eric Kuhn

Introduction by Francisco Mena

Q: What is the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation?

Ward: It is my charity which I have established both in Pittsburgh, through The Pittsburgh Foundation, and am in the process of finalizing in South Korea through The Beautiful Foundation. The goal behind my foundation is to help underprivileged and inner-city youth with literacy and other programs designed to help them succeed in life, and in Korea to assist and equip biracial children with all of the tools necessary to achieve the same purpose.

Q: Can you tell us some of the history behind your organization?  What made you start working for this cause?   

Ward: I decided to start my charity out of my love for kids of all ages and because of my own upbringing. In Pittsburgh, I meet kids of all ages from all walks of life. I see the desire in their eyes to be someone great and I want to do all that I can to help those without the means and/or resources to achieve their dreams. 

When I went to Korea and saw, firsthand, the biracial children, I could easily identify with them and they embraced me, like a hero. I do not want to let them down. I want to encourage them by providing them with resources and programs that will enhance their lives and chances for success in life.

Q: Which philanthropists did you look up to or inspire you while creating your organization?  

Ward: I really did not have any particular philanthropist in mind as my inspiration. My inspiration has always been my mom who is the ultimate example of self-sacrifice. To come from another country to the U.S., a foreign land to her at the time, not knowing the culture, language, or anything else, and to survive here, not to mention raise a son like me ... that's unbelievably impressive and motivating. My mom never quit. I learned much about giving and sacrificing through her efforts in raising me.

Q: Day-to-day, what is your involvement in the Helping Hands Foundation?

Ward: I have employed my management team to assist with the great task of developing my foundations both here and in Korea. I stay in touch with them daily and allow them to handle the day-to-day operations of my charity. This allows me to focus on football which, surprisingly, has really touched the lives of many children I look to support through my foundations.  I provide input and ideas, am involved in the long- and short-term planning of programs and services, and keep a general pulse on all areas involving my foundation. 

My foundation is in its infancy stage having been set up last year in Pittsburgh. We are actually finalizing my foundation's existence in Korea and will make the formal announcement on the foundation in the coming month. Therefore, we are currently in the short- and long-term planning stages as far as activities, services and programs goes.

As one of my foundation's first activities, I brought eight biracial children from Korea for the first time to watch a Steelers game and spend a weekend in America. This will actually be an annual event.

Q: Is there one memory that sticks out in during your involvement in the charity work?  

Ward: Probably my trip to Korea when I met with 70 to 100 biracial children of the Pearl Buck foundation and heard their stories of discrimination and sorrow. I will never forget that experience.

Q: Obviously you are a fantastic football player, but what do you want your legacy to be?  

Ward: I want to be known as a sincere ambassador for underprivileged and biracial children worldwide. In Korea, I want to do my part in ending the biracial discrimination that is prevalent there.  Football is my passion. Children are my heart. We don't choose to be the color or race we are. It is a gift from God and we should all view it that way.

Q: Why should Americans support your cause and how can they make a difference in this arena?

Ward: In order to raise great leaders in our communities we must first invest time in nurturing and raising our children to be educated thinkers who have dreams of success in whatever they choose to do in life and have the perseverance to see those dreams through to reality. I would love for Americans to share this passion with me as I simply want to contribute to a cause that will benefit all, and I believe that this will.