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Local nonprofit connects Pitt student athletes with children during virtual Zoom party

PITTSBURGH — With everything going on, children are missing out on a lot of activities. But one local group didn't let that stop them.

Instead, they took their lessons virtual.

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It’s not the usual way Orange Arrow connects area kids to mentors, but it’s the new way. The nonprofit organization held a chalk-talk lunch meeting on Zoom, complete with pizza delivered to all of their homes.

Orange Arrow founder Shawn Robinson said it was to continue the organization's mission to help young student athletes grow outside of sports.

"The mission of Orange Arrow is to coach student athletes off the field, off the track, off the pool … wherever the playing arena may be," Robinson said.

Robinson is a former football player at Pitt. Orange Arrow’s mentors are current and former Pitt student athletes, like kicker Alex Kessman. He believes children need their mentors around more than ever during the pandemic.

"This is definitely a scary time. It's scary for adults, so I can't even imagine what it's like for the kids. But I think that getting a kind of an escape in Zoom and having a pizza party and getting back to seeing familiar faces puts them back into normal," Kessman said.

The Zoom party was packed with games and lessons. It also had a surprise visit from former Pitt and current Minnesota Viking lineman Brian O'Neill.

"We'll all in this together," O'Neill said. "If we can find one or two things every single day that helps us remain productive and positive, I think that's a great thing."

The group talked about using this time for new hobbies or growing relationships, like O'Neill is doing with his 86-year-old grandmother.

"One of the things I've been doing is riding my bike over to her apartment building. She comes out on the balcony and I talk to her from the balcony," O'Neill said.

Kessman told Channel 11 the mentors get just as much out of an event like this as the kids.

“I think that as a student athlete, that’s what we strive for,” Kessman said. "As a kid, I looked up to older student athletes and I think I’m in a position now that I can be a role model. It’s very important for me to show those kids the right way and give them everything they can get out of me.”