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Keep Swinging

Henry Aaron was eighteen in 1952 when he boarded a train in Mobile, Alabama bound for Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the spring training home of the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League.  With a sack of sandwiches, two dollars and dark brown skin no one could have predicted that the skinny kid on that train would someday break the most hallowed record in sports.

When Aaron arrived in the major leagues in 1954, and for many years after that, he was not considered a power hitter.  Although he hit 140 homers in his first five big league seasons, guys like Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle were more revered as home run hitters.  Aaron was much more than a home run hitter.  He is currently one of only 29 players with 3,000 or more hits in their career and he holds the career records for runs batted in (RBI) and total bases and is fourth in runs scored.  It has been said that Aaron both deliberately and inadvertently hit home runs.

Henry Aaron played for 23 seasons, hit 755 home runs, but never hit more than 47 in a single year.  Seventy-three times in major league history a player has hit more than 47 home runs in a season.  Guys like Albert Bell, Hank Wilson, George Foster, Andruw Jones and Ted Kluszewski all hit more home runs in a single season but none came anywhere close to Aaron’s career mark of 755.

The Stewart Center’s recent transition to the Pittsburgh community is the result of much planning, hard work, and prayer.  We are optimistic about our long-term commitment to Pittsburgh and we are eager to see positive results from our efforts.  Despite the recent momentum, it has been difficult to leave Reynoldstown after 65 years while implementing a new strategic direction in a new location.

It was tough to discontinue the Reynoldstown programming that had served certain families for many years. Our departure from the well-known/infamous “blue building” has also left some of our longtime supporters feeling disconnected from a place they once held synonymous with the Stewart Center.  In Pittsburgh we are learning to navigate the realities of rented and shared space while embarking on a housing rehabilitation initiative, working with new partners and immersing ourselves in the Pittsburgh community.

Pittsburgh has the potential to be a place of hope and opportunity.  Currently that potential is strained by abstract factors such as the neighborhood’s child poverty and crime rates and tangible factors like the prostitutes that utilize the nearby corner and the substandard houses that many of our after school children call home.

I had hoped that the move would provide me with much needed energy for the work ahead, but the endless administrative tasks, continuing delays in our construction projects, and the abject poverty of many people in our community has left me wondering when, if, and how we will help bring about community transformation.  The Stewart Center has been serving in Pittsburgh since the summer of 2012 but it was not until we moved our base of operations to the neighborhood that I began to understand the magnitude of the work ahead.  Strategies conceived with good intentions are now realities demanding resources and practical solutions.

Despite the challenges, there are many reasons to be optimistic.  Multiple organizations and individuals are working to transform Pittsburgh; the Stewart Center has an engaged group of after school families that are committed to making the program better and supporting their children; Pittsburgh has many residents working and praying for a healthier community; and we have been blessed with positive partners in the neighborhood like Stewart Avenue United Methodist Church and Blueprint 58.  I am most encouraged by the work of our program staff.  They have managed to navigate various obstacles to create a high-quality learning environment for over 40 elementary school students.

At times like this I resonate with the story of Hank Aaron, not because we have any shared experiences or because I have ever broken any records, but because it took Hank Aaron over 20 seasons to break Babe Ruth’s home run record.   On the night Aaron hit 715 he was the home run champion, but he would not have been there without home run number 1, and number 367, and number 603, and all the rest.  Aaron was not the flashiest player, or the most charismatic, but he may have been the most reliable hitter in baseball history.  So it is with loving and serving our neighbors. Breaking records, crossing the finish line, or reaching a strategic goal is the exception, not the rule.  Loving and serving our neighbors is about being on the journey with them, about enduring relationships where each act of love blesses both the giver and the receiver.

It is my hope that the Stewart Center and all those that serve their communities will value the journey and those with whom we are fortunate to serve.  And who knows, it may turn out for us like it did for Henry Aaron, who was told by a famed sports writer after his second season that he would never set any home run records.