What I am about to do I do only once a year, so please indulge me. I am asking for your help.

When I was young, I wanted piano lessons. I never got them. An uncle had sent an old piano to our house, and we put it in the basement, and I wandered down and banged away. My “audience” was old boxes full of boots and toys — which, at that point, was about all I deserved. Every night I sang songs, one note at a time, and tried to make the keys match my voice. If it seemed higher, I banged a note to the right. If lower, I banged to the left.

It was a slow, tortuous process, and I realize now I must truly have loved that old piano and the very thought of making music to have sat there for so many hours. My parents would politely close the door as soon as I went down to play, that’s how bad I was. But I was also stubborn. I stayed on that piano bench. I taught myself. And in the end, I found a purpose in those keys. I found a dream. I dreamed of being a musician.

There are many kids today who still have dreams like that. What they don’t have is a piano in the basement. Or a saxophone. Or a dance studio.

What they don’t have is someone to teach them.

Those kids are right here, all around you, in our city. They are the children you see hanging out on the corner, and you say to yourself, “Those kids ought to find something to do.” They are the teens you see smoking cigarettes near a schoolyard, and you say to yourself, “Those kids are too young to be smoking.” They are the young men and women who grow up without many choices, and sometimes they take to the streets, and when something awful happens you say to yourself, “Good Lord. What is the matter with those kids?”

Here’s what’s the matter: They need help.

You can provide it.

The main course . . .

Each year around this time, we do a charity roast of a major sports figure. We bring out members of his team, people from his past, media celebrities and other entertainers, put them on a dais, give them the microphone and let things sizzle. We show videos. Do parody songs. Serve dinner. And laugh until the tables shake.

This year’s roastee is Wayne Fontes, and you know what that means: It means we might be there all night. Between Wayne’s cigars, his crying, is hugging and his rather keen resemblance to Fred Flintstone, there is an awful lot of material.

On hand to help do the honors — most of whom will roast, some just will be laughing — will be Barry Sanders, Rodney Peete, Jerry Ball, Jim Arnold, Lomas Brown, Billy Sims, Chuck Daly, John Salley, George Perles, Bernie Smilovitz, Mark Champion, Mark and Mike Ridley, and several others.

There will be an auction of sports paraphernalia — everything from autographed jerseys to faraway vacations. And the local TV sports anchors are preparing special videos to further embarrass the guest of honor.

Personally, if Jim Arnold does his Pee Wee Herman impersonation, my night is made.

The event is Tuesday. At the Troy Marriott. It starts with a special patron’s reception at 6:30 p.m., with dinner and the roast beginning at 7:30.

The phone number is 87-COACH. Tickets are $75 for the dinner and roast, or $150 for “patrons,” who get a special private reception before the meal with the celebrities. Tables of 10 are available for companies wishing to purchase them.

Now, that’s not a cheap ticket. So you should know this: Every penny of profit goes directly into a special scholarship fund at Detroit’s excellent Center for Creative Studies. And that fund is distributed directly to the kids. The money buys lessons. The money buys a place to go. The money buys something to do, besides hang out and grow bitter about all the chances you don’t have.

The money opens the door to the worlds of music and dance, instruments, voice, jazz, classical, etc. — for kids in your city, kids you see and pass every day.

Every penny. No exceptions.

It’s called The Dream Fund.

You can see why.

Just desserts . . .

A thought just flashed through my mind. Remember when Darryl Rogers was coaching the Lions? And they were awful, as usual? One day, Darryl stood outside, after a practice, with his arms folded across his chest. He was staring at the Silverdome roof.

A player passed by and wondered what his coach was looking at.

“Pigeons,” Rogers said, not breaking his gaze. “Do you now how many pigeons sit up on that roof? . . .”

My thought: I wish we could have roasted Darryl.

But Wayne will do just fine. He’ll take a good amount of jabs — and in the end, he’ll get to retaliate. The crazy thing is, a few years ago, we couldn’t have done this. The Lions were too sad to be funny.

Which only shows you how things can change. They can change in our city, too. I know this is a tough time of year. I know the economy stinks. I also know that usually that’s when kids most need help and hope.

Please provide both. Call 87-COACH.

And I promise you won’t see another column like this for a year.

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