By Leah D. Stone
Even a few short moments of conversation with Warrick Dunn, retired NFL running back and founder of Warrick Dunn Charities, will quickly reveal his compassionate and thoughtful nature as a consummate caregiver.
“Early in life, I learned to sacrifice … it’s always been about sharing with someone else.” That sacrifice deepened when Dunn became primary caregiver to his five younger siblings after his mother’s tragic murder in 1993. Drawing strength from her inspiration, he persevered and attended Florida State University and was later drafted into the NFL by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was during his rookie season that Dunn was impacted by famed coach Tony Dungy in a way that would steer the course of his life. “Coach Dungy challenged that if we were going to live in the community we needed to be a part of it and give back.” Dunn took that challenge head on and founded the Warrick Dunn Foundation, also known as Warrick Dunn Charities, in 1997 in Tampa, Fla.
The organization’s mission is to provide hope and healing to communities through innovative programming inspired by Dunn’s own journey. One of the most notable facets of the group is the “Home for the Holidays” program that helps single parents achieve their goals of home ownership through down payment assistance. In the last 20 years, the program has been able to help more than 150 single parents purchase homes. “My passion came from what my mom went through to become a homeowner,” Dunn says. “I’m grateful people believe in my vision and my mom’s vision and ultimately I’ve been able to utilize this program as therapy for myself.”
Dunn has worked to deal with grief and depression in a journey that was 10 years in the making after his mom’s passing. Attending counseling became a defining moment in his life. “I was searching to free myself and I went to counseling to deal with grief and my distant emotions and to better my life and my situation; I’m happy to have turned that corner … to be able to share joy and not be so closed off.” One of Dunn’s other themes has been hard work, a grounding ethos that was instilled in him from his early days at Catholic High School where he struggled academically until he learned how to study and prepare better.
“There are some things you don’t know until they’re taught to you and I had to learn it wasn’t all about athletics. Take care of the classroom first,” Dunn says. That ethic carried him far in the NFL, where he received numerous accolades and awards including the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2004, and helped him continue his post graduate education, obtaining a Master’s Degree in business administration from Emory University in 2013. “I’m always about learning and trying to advance my knowledge in a different subject,” Dunn shares. “I consider myself a continuous learner.” And it’s all to pay it forward. “I like changing lives for the better and leaving a positive effect and hopefully that trickles down to people doing something good for someone else.” AT
Connect with Warrick Dunn at the 2017 Men of Excellence Reception on May 9th @ 6:00-7:30 PM.