When it comes to former NFL Running Back Warrick Dunn, there is no denying the lasting
impact he made on the field. However, what is even more undeniable about Mr. Dunn is his unwavering passion for the impact he makes off of it. After losing his mother at age 18 and being thrust into the throes of adulthood quickly, Dunn fulfilled his late mother’s lifelong dream and purchased a home for himself and his siblings. From those life defining moments and a push from former NFL Head Coach Tony Dungy during his rookie season, Dunn was inspired to help those who grew up in single family situations just like him. Nearly 2 and a half decades later, that small program has flourished into Warrick Dunn Charities, an organization that has and continues to impact hundreds of lives across various markets. The career of Dunn as a player was special to watch as a football fan. As a human being, the story of the work being done at Warrick Dunn Charities will blow you away.
Warrick Dunn recalls the moment during his rookie offseason when he was issued not only a challenge, but an opportunity from his new Head Coach Tony Dungy. “He sat all of the rookies down in one room. He challenged us right then and there to be more than just football players. To be better men and better members of society. He told us to use the opportunity before us to make an impact in the world.” Dunn got right to work. He began to brainstorm and throw out idea after idea. Then one day it hit him. “I knew that I wanted to honor my mother and the selfless life she lived and the dreams she had for us as a family, but I wanted to do it in a way that really made a difference and that is how we came up with Home for the Holidays.” Home For The Holidays is the foundational program upon which Warrick Dunn Charities is built and still the focal point of their work 24 years later. Through this program and various donors and partners, WDC provides substantial down payment assistance as well as fully furnishing each home and a pantry fill to top it all off. To date, Warrick Dunn Charities has helped over 180 families and 500 children relocate to permanent homes, raising nearly 1 million dollars in down-payment assistance. Dunn says “There really is no greater feeling than handing over the keys to a new home and witnessing these lives change before your very eyes. Their faces, the pure joy in their eyes, it’s indescribable. I have been very fortunate to have been able to keep the program running this long. I quickly realized that funding it completely by myself was impossible. Without donors, partners and relationships built over the years, we could not do what we do.”
As the organization grew and began to reach out to different markets, so too did the ways Warrick Dunn Charities was able to help even more people. Lamonte Jones, who has been with WDC since 2007 and is the current Board Chair describes this process. “ Warrick is constantly throwing us ideas to run with. Using his own experience and what we were witnessing and hearing from families in our areas, we developed additional resourceful programs to expand our means of aid. Our mission has always been to END generational poverty. Although there is no end in sight, at least in my lifetime, we know the work we are doing and the things we have put in place will greatly improve quality of life for so many.”
The programs that Mr. Jones speaks of are available to anyone who needs them, not just those families and people who are eligible for homes. They include the Count On Your Future Program, which was launched in 2014 as a workshop to help give families financial empowerment and independence. They have also launched SCULPT. Originally a program to increase the impact the pantry-fills had on families who were receiving homes, it quickly expanded beyond that. It now serves to teach families proper nutritional habits, but also how to budget their shopping using coupons and various other methods. WDC also rewards students who plan to pursue further academic opportunities after high school who are also giving back to their respective communities. With their Heart For Community Scholarships, they reward a $1,000 scholarship to 11 different students throughout the country each year. Dunn explains “ It is not just about what we do with each one of our programs, but who we do it for also. These programs are in place for anyone who needs them. Anyone who could possibly be down and out, we are here. Above all else, we can give you hope and sometimes that is all you need to get started.”
As it did for so many around the world, the year 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic presented its fair share of challenges to the organization. Whitney Jackson, Executive Director of Warrick Dunn Charities since 2018, explains how they were able to turn these difficulties into even more moments of hope. “ The work can never stop. The resources we provide are essential to improving quality of life for so many. Our fight to end generational poverty has been limited as far as how many people we have been able to reach demographically. With everything being moved to remote habitats, we were able to convert our SCULPT nutritional workshop and our financial workshops online, thus expanding our reach further than ever before. This fight starts with education. It starts with educating our youth or those who were never even taught these things and are now parents struggling to provide for their family. Moving forward, we plan to keep expanding and keep working to provide our services to as many as possible.” Whitney also announced that this year, the Hearts for Community Scholarships would be increased from $1000 to $5000.
Not once while describing the journey of Warrick Dunn Charities over the years, did Mr. Dunn ever take sole credit for the foundation’s work. At WDC, they have built not only a team, but a family within that team. They all share the same mission. A mission echoed by their founder. “ Look, I am only one man. I am so proud of everything that Warrick Dunn Charities has been able to accomplish over the years. I am beyond grateful for our board members, our directors, our volunteers, our partners and donors who have just as much to do with our success if not more than I do. Our mission to end generational property is so much bigger than my fame or who I was as a football player. I can never look too far back or too far forward because this fight needs to be fought every single day…..and we need as many people as possible to help us fight it”