GREENSBORO, Ga. — Warrick Dunn has a big heart and he loves making dreams come true for single mothers across America.
It reminds the former NFL star, who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, of what life was like when his mother was raising him and his siblings by herself. Cpl. Betty Smothers was a police officer in Baton Rouge, La. She was killed in the line-of-duty during an attempted robbery in 1993.
Dunn was 18 at the time of his mother’s death. He is now 46.
His mother’s lifelong dream was to someday own her home where her children and their families could come back and visit.
Dunn, who since has retired from the game of football, operates a charitable organization called Warrick Dunn Charities.
His charitable organization teams up with businesses from across the country to help make the home ownership dreams of single mothers come true.
Last week, Dunn and his organization fulfilled the dreams of two single mothers in Georgia’s Lake Country. They partnered with Greene County Habitat for Humanity to make it all possible.
The two mothers helped with new homes, as well as $5,000 checks to help with mortgage payments, were Santeria Sneed, a pharmacy technician at Publix Supermarket at Lake Oconee, and Deavon Janes, a housekeeper at Durhamtown Plantation near Union Point.
“It never gets old," said the soft-spoken Dunn. “Each opportunity to present keys experience is different. I’ve always said they are priceless moments that you cherish.”
Dunn said each time that he presents the keys to a single mother raising children, he automatically remembers his mother’s dream, too.
“I have learned through life that there are a lot of single mothers out there who have a similar dream of their own,” said Dunn. “Life happens, and we all different issues. If we could just all learn to care and support each other, and care about your neighbor, then we could all make a big difference.”
Dunn said he wasn’t referring to handouts.
“I believe in people working and doing their part to help,” said Dunn. “If they do their part, then I’ll do my part. We just all have to hold each other accountable. We have to realize that people need assistance and help sometimes and we have to provide that assistance and help.”
Dunn said he is blessed beyond measure.
“I take pride in having the ability and opportunity to help people from all races and backgrounds,” said Dunn. “And I think about the kids, because most importantly, as parents, oftentimes we've had our journey, so then the focus is on our children and how can we help them to have a better opportunity for success.”
Dunn said even though he cares deeply about the struggles of single mothers, his focus is more geared towards the kids.
Dunn and his charitable organization have helped single mothers and families across the country over the last several years in several different states.
The homes are all fully decorated, the cabinets stocked with dishes, pots and pans, and filled with grocery items. The same is true of the refrigerator and freezer — both filled with eatable items for the entire family.
And each new home or refurbished home’s dining room table has a clear covered dish with a fresh baked apple pie under it.
“My mom’s favorite was apple pie,” said Dunn. “We used to eat them all the time. It’s also the symbol of the American dream, so it just plays a significant role in the decoration of the dining room table. Apple pie has always been a part of my life and part of my journey.”
Asked what it means to him to see the children at both of the refurbished homes in Greene County so excited and appreciative, Dunn quickly replied.
“When kids see something, it’s an honest reaction,” said Dunn. “That is as real as it can get.”
Dunn’s grandmother, who accompanied him to Greene County last week, sat in a chair outside both homes and watched as officials with Greene County Habitat for Humanity gathered. They included community officials such as Greensboro City Councilmen Morris Miller and Chris Moore, Freddie Evans, Dr. Joan Antone, the Rev. Joseph L. Nunnally, Bob Crisp and many others. Nunnally serves as president of the Greene County Habitat for Humanity. Officials and members of the Putnam County Habitat for Humanity also attended.
Dunn’s grandmother, Willie Wheeler, who is from Baton Rouge, helped raise Dunn and his five siblings following her daughter’s death.
“I tell people that she’s my favorite girl in the world,” said Dunn of his grandmother. “She made so many sacrifices for us, our family. She did her part.”
Dunn said he was appreciative of his playing days on the football field, but he believes his life has had a much bigger impact in the game of life rather than the gridiron.
“This is not about a competition,” said Dunn. “This about everyday life. And people need help and assistance sometimes as human beings. I’m just thankful that I have the opportunity to help people.”
When it comes to what he would like to remembered from a legacy standpoint, Dunn said he still believes he has to grow more in life.
“I feel like I still have a ways to go in figuring out some things in life,” said Dunn. “I just want to become a better person, a better man. I’d like to continue to expand so we can help more people.”
The two refurbished homes in Greene County marked the 196th and 197th homes, respectively, that Dunn and his organization along with their partners, including Aaron’s Rentals, who completely furnished both homes with appliances and furniture, new television sets and other furnishings.
“I just want to keep going and establishing more and more partnerships is the key to helping more and more people across America,” said Dunn.