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Warrick Dunn’s local legacy extends far beyond football

Mark Parker



Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star running back Warrick Dunn (left) presents Tomeka (center) with the keys to her new house as her daughter looks on. Photos by Mark Parker.

For the 57th time in 25 years, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Warrick Dunn has helped a Tampa Bay area single parent achieve their dream of homeownership.

The former Florida State University and NFL star teamed up with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties once again Tuesday, surprising a St. Petersburg single mother as she pulled into her new home. Dunn presented Tomeka (last name withheld) with a $5,000 down-payment assistance check and $10,000 worth of furnishings from the Aaron’s company.

The ceremony marked the 204th nationwide celebration and the 57th in the region by the Pro Bowl running back’s nonprofit organization. Since 1997, Warrick Dunn Charities (WDC) has identified dedicated single parents in need and helped them achieve their dream of first-time homeownership as part of its flagship Homes for the Holidays program.

“It’s always good to come back to my other home,” said Dunn, a Louisiana native with strong ties to Tampa Bay and Atlanta. “Thank you guys for always supporting us and what we’re doing in the community.”

Dunn (left) surprised Tomeka, a bus driver with Pinellas County Schools, when she pulled into her new home.

Dunn started his philanthropy – under the advice of former Bucs coach Tony Dungy – in honor of his late mother, Betty Smothers. She was a single parent who worked tirelessly to achieve her dream of owning a home for Dunn and his five younger siblings – until tragedy struck in 1993.

Before he became a star at Florida State, which has since retired his number 28 jersey, or became Tampa Bay’s 12th overall draft pick in 1997, Dunn and his family struggled to attain permanent housing. His mother, a single parent to six kids, was a Baton Rouge police officer who worked a second job providing private security.

Working one night in January 1993, Smothers was shot and killed at the age of 36.

While still a rookie with the Buccaneers, Dunn began helping other families with similar stories. According to the WDC website, he has contributed over $1 million in down payment assistance, and 92% of those single parents remain in their homes today.

“The reason that I started the program was because of what I experienced with my mom,” said Dunn to a large crowd. “What she went through to provide a stable environment, to make sure that we could have a place to have memories.”

Kevin Milkey (left) and the Milkey Family Foundation also provided assistance. He and Dunn (right) pose with Tomeka.

Mike Sutton, president and CEO of the local Habitat affiliate, said most of that work is in conjunction with the organization. The homes are earned and financed through Habitat, while Aaron’s provides the furnishings. WDC gifts the down payment assistance and ensures the house is fully stocked, with the assistance of local philanthropists.

The Milkey Family Foundation helped provide Tomeka and her two teenage sons, Marcus and Marquez, with everything they needed to move into their forever home Tuesday.

The new homeowner is a bus driver with Pinellas County Schools (PCS), and Sutton said she also works a second job while battling rising rent in a small apartment. The notoriously soft-spoken Dunn said Tuesday’s event held extra meaning for him, as the WDC is celebrating its 25th anniversary, where it began – in Tampa Bay.

“That’s what you have been doing, sacrificing,” said Dunn to Tomeka. “You’ve spent a lot of time really committing yourself to your family.

“A lot of traits that my mom had – you represent those.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, who Sutton called “an amazing partner” with Habitat, began his remarks by reiterating his commitment to intentionally creating inclusive progress for all and said the organization was a crucial part of that goal.

Welch relayed that he is working with Habitat to build 56 townhomes nearby to help residents achieve their dream of homeownership and said the city is “so blessed” to form those partnerships and come together for people in need.

“There’s so much conflict in the news every day, and we tend to focus on that,” said Welch. “But this is one of the great things about our community.”

Mike Sutton (front), president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties, addresses a large crowd Tuesday.

After the ceremony, Sutton said that in addition to Dunn, his organization also works closely with former Buccaneer placekicker Martin Gramatica. He noted that every professional athlete’s first career ends, and the next chapter in life is about what they will do to continue building their legacy and influencing the community “that’s given you so much.”

Sutton called Dunn “a perfect example of that” and said his actions allow kids to see there is much more to life than football and sports.

“It’s about how you’re able to take what you’ve learned through that and apply it back into the community,” added Sutton. “I think that’s huge. He’s done a phenomenal job with it.”





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    Diana Lind

    October 11, 2022at8:06 pm

    Warren Dunn is a great human and an honor to his mom.

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