Warrick Dunn made his name as a star running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, but over the past three decades, the former pro football player has also become known for another passion: philanthropy. In 1997, the same year he joined the NFL, Dunn launched the nonprofit Homes for the Holidays to assist single parents in becoming homeowners. Today, he’s helped make that dream come true for over 220 families.
The program has personal significance for Dunn. The oldest of six children, he was raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by his single mother who worked as a police officer to provide for him and his siblings. In 1993, when Dunn was just 18, his mom was tragically killed in the line of duty. After her death, Dunn honored her lifelong goal to own a home, using the money from her life insurance to purchase a house for the family.
“I saw the way that she treated people,” Dunn said, per the organization’s website. “One, I saw her work ethic. And two, I saw, when we didn’t have anything as a family … she would give her last to people. She would help do small things, and that, I think, for me, set the example.”
The charity aims to break the cycles of generational poverty and ease the burden on new, single parent homeowners by providing furnishings and down payment assistance — more than $1.07 million to date. It also helps “turn houses into homes” by decorating every room and stocking pantries with food.
Homes for the Holidays has expanded since its inception and is now part of Warrick Dunn Charities, which also runs three other programs: Count on Your Future, Sculpt, and Hearts for Community Service scholarships. All four are “dedicated to strengthening and transforming communities by combating poverty, hunger, and improving the quality of lives for families academically, socially, and economically.”
On Dec. 12, the nonprofit teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to surprise a single mother and her son in Miami.
The woman, Tanya, had just signed closing papers on her new home, built by Habitat for Humanity. Per Atlanta news outlet WSB-TV, she had been expecting an empty house, but instead opened the door to $10,000 of home furnishings from Aaron’s, facilitated by Homes for the Holidays. Dunn also surprised her with a $5,000 down payment assistance check. It marked the 221st home celebration for the organization.
This past September, Dunn did the same for a Baton Rouge mother and her 8-year-old daughter. Catholic High School, which Dunn graduated from before going on to play football for Florida State University, was also involved: Students and faculty raised $84,500 for the Habitat for Humanity build. Dunn returned to his hometown to guide the family through their new home.
“Dominique and Miracle, single mother, first-time homeowner, I think it’s important to help change the community and the environment, create stability for a family that could potentially have good long-term positive impacts,” the retired athlete told WSFA-12.
“It’s like a fresh start,” said mom Dominique, who was in tears when she walked through the door for the first time. “A new home, a new fresh start, is a new beginning. And I’m totally blessed.”