Sports fans across the country know Warrick Dunn as the elusive and electrifying running back for the Atlanta Falcons, but for this two-time Pro Bowler, nothing is as rewarding as his work off the field. Through his Homes for the Holidays program, Dunn, 31, helps single mothers become first-time home buyers.
To date, he has raised more than $5 million through the Warrick Dunn Foundation, and the program reached a milestone in May when it assisted its 60th single-parent family move into a new house. Dunn plans to assist another six families later this fall, providing — as always — the down payment and furniture.
Directly following his first-round draft selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1997, Dunn established the program in honor of his own mother’s dream to one day own a home. Unfortunately, his mother, a Louisiana police officer, was killed during a robbery while working overtime as an off-duty security officer. She was 36.
Although his own mother was unable to fulfill her dream, Dunn is helping other single mothers in Atlanta; Tampa, Florida; and his hometown of Baton Rouge realize theirs. His speed and quickness give him the edge on the football field, but it is his philanthropic work off the field that makes him a No. 1 draft pick in community service. BLACK ENTERPRISE recently spoke to Dunn about his foundation.
What do you find rewarding about Homes for the Holidays?
I want to change someone’s life dramatically. If that’s having an effect on someone five, 10, 15, 20 years from now, then that’s the kind of change I want to have. For me, it’s helping people help themselves. The people I help aren’t looking for a handout; they’re looking for a helping hand to get up.
What do you expect from those you help?
Nothing. Their only obligation is to pay the mortgage. But I’ve been blessed to make some money and not have to struggle day in and day out. So if I can pass my blessings on to someone else, that’s what it’s all about. We’re not making it easy for them, but let’s push people in the right direction to live better than the way they are now. Let’s put them in positions to succeed on their own.
What are some of the challenges you face?
Egos. Some people don’t want to be helped. Sometimes it’s figuring out the right people to work with. The people we help have to be prepared mentally and financially. They take financial courses, and we’re always looking over their shoulders to make sure they’re doing the right thing like holding a steady job. It isn’t a cakewalk, and by no means are we just giving houses away. They earn it.
What have you learned along the way?
That foundation work is tough. Fundraising is all about an image. It’s about convincing people that what you do is beneficial. There are a lot of great things that people support, but it’s hard to get dollars where people support, trust, and believe in what you’re doing. It takes