Warrick Dunn is famous for his professional football career, which spanned 12 seasons in the NFL, but he deserves more acclaim for his philanthropy. Ever since his rookie season in 1997, Dunn has supported single-parents and underprivileged families with his Homes for the Holidays program. He started the organization to honor his mother’s memory, since she had always dreamed of homeownership. So Dunn has made this dream a reality for many families in the United States.
Warrick Dunn Helps House Over 200 Families
Dun’s mother, Betty Dunn Smothers, worked as a police officer in Louisiana. She was killed while working her second job as a security guard. Corporal Smothers was in uniform and driving a patrol car when she and the store manager went to make a deposit at a bank. Three men shot them as they sat in the car, killing Corporal Smothers and injuring the manager. This happened a few days before her oldest son’s birthday, Warwick Dunn. 
Dunn was already a father figure for his five younger siblings. “I never really had a childhood,” he said in a 1994 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I’ve never been able to go out and just go crazy, like most kids, because I grew up staying in the house a lot, baby-sitting.” 
Friends and other police officers raised a trust fund of over $200,000 for Dunn and his siblings. The money, plus Betty’s life insurance, paid for their education and allowed them to stay together in a house in Baton Rouge with their grandmother, Willie D. Wheeler. “It’s something my mom always wanted, a house,” Dunn said at the time. “And it’s something we couldn’t afford.”
Soon after his mother’s death, he played college football at Florida State University. After he graduated, he was chosen by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round of the 1997 NFL draft. His head coach, Tony Dungy, challenged Dunn to give back to the Florida community during his stay. So Dunn began Homes for the Holidays in his mother’s memory. “I wanted to do something that was a little bit more impactful, not just handing out turkeys,” he said. “I wanted to do something that had a real impact in the community.” 
Taking His Life Back After His Mother’s Death
Warrick Dunn struggled for a long time after his mother’s death. Despite his successful charity and sports career, he didn’t feel like he was enjoying life. After hearing a teammate talk about another player going to therapy, Dunn sought counseling. It was very difficult at first, but eventually, Dunn began to heal, even visiting one of the men convicted for his mother’s murder and saying he forgives him.
“I started talking, and the first nine months I never looked my counselor in the eye,” Dunn said. “But once I got comfortable and was able to express myself, I was able to look her in the eye, have conversations with her, and over the years I got to the point where I was putting the pieces of my life back together and I got to the point where I wanted to go and sit with the guy who shot and killed my mom. I wanted to talk to him because I wanted to take that power back and create more peace in my life.”
“The guy” was Kevan Brumfield, who was on Louisiana’s death row. Dunn had hoped he would seem remorseful but Brumfield was not. But Dunn let go of his resentment anyway. “He actually said, ‘It wasn’t me.’ I said, ‘I don’t care who it is, I just want to come here and say I forgive you. You’ve taken so much of my life away from me that I want back.’ After that I just felt like I took my life back.” 
Creating Homes and a Better Future
The Homes for the Holidays program provides down payments and all furniture and necessities for the new homes. The program successfully housed three families that first year. In 2002, Dunn also started Warrick Dunn Charities to grow more services and programs. Today, the charity has helped house over 200 single-parent families. “The more I learned, we wanted to get into the business of giving people the potential to break their cycle of poverty,” Dunn explained. “Over the last 21 years, I’ve just learned a lot about different issues people face.”
Therefore, the program partners with other organizations like community development groups, financial institutions, and Habitat for Humanity, which helps build homes for disadvantaged families. “We’ve come up with services that can really help give families tools so they can have some stability long term, and with that is financial literacy, health and wellness, education attainment and workforce development and entrepreneurship,” Dunn said.
Warrick Dunn Charities has since expanded with three more programs, Count on Your Future, Sculpt, and Hearts for Community Service, providing financial education, health, and wellness education, and higher education scholarships for students who are active volunteers in their community. Dunn states that these programs can help fight poverty and improve the quality of life for underprivileged families.
“It’s not just about home ownership. And it’s not just about the parents, it’s really more about the kids and their futures and trying to create a better society long term,” Dunn said. “I just want to be able to continue to wrap my arms around the communities that we’re in and really support them and help them grow and keep that stability.” 
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- “Has Warrick Dunn Built More Than 145 Homes for Single Parents?” Snopes. Dan Evon. September 11, 2018
- “Turning His Grief to Good : Florida State Running Back Warrick Dunn Sets an Example for All.” Los Angeles Times. Jim Hodges. December 31, 1994
- “How former NFL star Warrick Dunn’s mother inspired him to tackle housing inequity.” CNN. Lauren Lee. December 23, 2021
- “Warrick Dunn opens up about the lingering effects of his mother’s murder.” NBC Sports.Michael David Smith. June 28, 2019
- “Warrick Dunn is the gift who keeps on giving.” Bay News 9. Katherine Smith. November 25, 2022