Making a Marc
Warrick Dunn - Rushing Others to the American Dream
Warrick Dunn came of age in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the eldest of the six children of Betty Smothers, a hardworking single mother who had a career as a police officer and moonlighted as a security guard.
On January 7, 1993, tragedy struck. A family friend phoned Dunn, then 18, to inform the youth that his mom had been ambushed in her squad car and murdered.
Her death made the grieving Dunn, together with a grandmother, responsible for his five younger siblings. Luckily for the family, people they knew rallied around them in their time of need. “The community started a fund for us,” Dunn remembers. “They donated money and that’s how we were able to pay bills all those years.”
After getting his high school diploma, Dunn left Louisiana for Florida State University where he distinguished himself on the football field and earned a degree in Information studies.
In 1997 Dunn started playing football professionally for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sports Illustrated, along with Football News and Pro Football Weekly, bestowed on him the title “Rookie of the Year.” The Associated Press (AP), Football Digest, and College and Pro Football Newsweekly named him “Offensive Rookie of the Year.” The top-of-the-line athlete played five seasons with the Buccaneers before going to the Falcons with whom he played six seasons. The Warrick Dunn Charities website notes, “He retired from the NFL 14th all-time in all-purpose yards with 15,306 and 19th in rushing yards with 10,967.”
Dunn caught the philanthropic spirit young. He was still a rookie when he founded Homes for the Holidays, an organization that partners with other organizations to aid underprivileged single-parent families in home ownership. The Warrick Dunn Charities website reveals, “Homes for the Holidays has furnished 169 homes, provided over $800,000 in down-payment assistance, and served over 457 single parents and children.” Based in Atlanta, Homes for the Holidays works with families who have been accepted by an affordable housing provider, frequently Habitat for Humanity. As Ben Reiter reports in Sports Illustrated, this “requires prospective homeowners to contribute several hours of sweat equity into houses’ construction.”
Happy with the grateful reactions of the beneficiaries of Homes for the Holidays, Dunn created three other programs to help people better themselves: Count On Your Future, which provides training in managing one’s finances; Sculpt, which teaches healthy eating; and Hearts for Community Service Scholarships, which awards $1,000 scholarships to young people who volunteer. All four of the programs are under the overarching umbrella of Warrick Dunn Charities.
Reiter describes the whimsical twist Warrick Dunn Charities puts into its good works when its recipient families walk “for the first time into the first houses they have ever owned, expecting them to be empty” but discover that the “rooms have been fully furnished and decorated, that the cupboards and refrigerators are stuffed with food and cookware, and that the closets and garages brim with cleaning supplies and lawn care equipment.” In most cases, a family also finds a $5,000 check to assist with down payment, the smiling presence of Warrick Dunn himself, and a freshly baked apple pie on the dining room table. “Apple pie means home and the American Dream,” Dunn notes.
Homes for Holidays makes no pretense at being Santa Claus. Dunn states that those he aids “have actually done the work” and have been “approved for a loan” and that they “make monthly payments on the home.” He elaborates, “What we do is we come in and we help ease the burden a little bit.” By easing those burdens, Warrick Dunn Makes a Marc even as helps many families Make their Marcs. To learn more about Warrick Dunn Charities, visit online at wdc.org
Reiter, Ben. “Warrick Dunn’s Greatest Legacy Goes Far Beyond Football.” Sports Illustrated. Dec. 10, 2019