Former Falcon Warrick Dunn was a senior in high school when he heard devastating news that would crush anyone. His mom, his best friend, his confidant had been gunned down in the line of duty.
His mother, Baton Rouge police corporal Betty Smothers, was killed in January 1993 during an ambush at a local bank. Two men were convicted for her murder, but Betty was gone forever. Dunn knew his single mother would never be able to buy the home she dreamed of for her six children.
Dunn wanted to make sure other single moms were able to realize the American dream of home ownership. That’s why nineteen years ago, Dunn began “Homes for the Holidays” to honor Betty.
Since then, more than 150 families have received home buying assistance through his philanthropic efforts. Dunn’s not-for-profit, Warrick Dunn Charities, partners with the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, Habitat for Humanity and other organizations. And through this charity,”Homes for the Holidays” provides $5,000 in down payment assistance, financial counseling and other support to families in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Detroit, Tallahassee (Dunn played college football at Florida State University), Atlanta and several other cities.
“We fully furnish the homes—food, furniture, linens, garden tools, TVs, computers, even down to the toothbrushes,” says Dunn. “The family just has to pretty much bring their own clothes.”
Dunn, 41, was a running back for the Falcons for six years. The Atlanta resident is a popular figure around the East Lake Family YMCA, always stopping to shake hands and pose for selfies.
The former NFL star likes working with Georgia-based Habitat for Humanity because families who receive assistance are required to put in “sweat equity” by assisting to build their home or other Habitat homes.
Many of the families are in dire situations, says Dunn. “They have to clean up their credit, apply for a loan and just learn more about financial management.”
The families must learn how to fix things around the house and maintain their lawns. Ninety-two percent of the families have kept their homes.
“There’s a lot of pride, a lot of security in these families…It’s a defining piece for us because it tells you a lot about the individual.”
The initial effort targeted single mothers. Now the program is open to all types of families.
The charity isn’t giving anyone anything, says Dunn. “It’s not a handout. It’s a hand up. The real hard work is done by the families. Their commitment is to changing their environment for their kids—to get them a safe comfortable environment to grow up in.”
Renee Tulloch was the single mother working as a medical assistant in Tampa when she was surprised with a $5,000 check from Dunn’s charity eight years ago. She was already in the process of buying her first home, and officials at Dunn’s charity were on the hunt for a single mother who could benefit from their assistance.
The charity quietly picked Tulloch, who wondered why her boss at the time wanted to accompany her at the closing of her house, which took place in her new home. It turns out her boss was in on the surprise. When Tulloch opened the door of her new home, everything she needed was already there. She has never forgotten what a blessing Dunn was to her family.
She credits his act of kindness with changing the trajectory of her life. She has since earned advanced degrees in nursing, works for a hospital company in Orlando and expects to close on her third home in February. Her son, Jordan, now plays running back for his high school football team—a mere coincidence, she says.
“The hand up that was provided to me by Warrick Dunn and his foundation helped lay the groundwork to a positive future for myself and my son. The work that the foundation does is not just about a down payment and house furnishings, but instead is about planting seeds to grow into your [life] and your children’s lives going forward.”
Dunn beams with pride as he rattles off Tulloch’s accomplishments. “Renee is a great example of an individual that just needed a push on down the road.”
To learn more about Warrick Dunn Charities, go to: wdc.org