Former Florida Gator Tackles At-Risk Youth

Jay Hein

After leading the Florida Gators to four SEC championships and a six season NFL career Danny’s life gravitated toward philanthropy. While playing for the New Orleans Saints, he stumbled across Desire Street Ministries in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, which began as an after school program in the crime-ridden Desire housing project and grew into a full-blown Christian academy for young men.

It all began one day when Wuerffel was driving through New Orleans’s Ninth Ward. Turning down one street, he noticed three young children rushing from an inflamed building he assumed was condemned and uninhabited.

The impaired structure had stood for years along a badly neglected street of Ninth Ward, a part of town city officials refused to visit, and one where “mandatory” fire and health code inspections had not taken place in many years. Despite the death of the youngest child from smoke inhalation, the local media did not cover the event.

Outraged that the child’s death went unnoticed beyond the neighborhood, Wuerffel committed himself to advocate for the voiceless in the Ninth Ward.  He discovered Desire Street Ministries then, and began leveraging his celebrity status to grow the outreach.

Wuerffel spoke to the Sagamore audience regarding his experiences in helping to transform New Orleans and how Indianapolis can make strides in its at-risk communities.

Nearer to home, James Taylor, CEO of Indianapolis’ John H. Boner Community Center, outlined a grassroots effort that has funneled $11.3 million toward housing and real estate development in the Near Eastside, a neighborhood with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.  Here community leaders have taken it upon themselves to develop, refine and launch the Near Eastside Quality of Life/Super Bowl Legacy Project.  He explained how the 2012 Super Bowl will leverage with a “spotlight and a bullhorn,” an effort that began years ago when community leaders took hold of their own destiny.  The hype from the Legacy Project magnifies stories of personal triumph, like that of Valerie Davis, who spoke at the event about her tumultuous journey from homelessness and poverty to homeownership on the Near Eastside, thanks to capital from the Legacy Project.

Immediately following the reception, residents of the Indianapolis Re-Entry Educational Facility (IREF), a correctional facility that helps prisoners re-enter free society, met and heard from Danny as well.  Complementing Danny’s account, Indianapolis locals Tim Streett and Don Cox shared the story of their unlikely friendship in the wake a murder that should have made them enemies.

Both events illustrated how proximate our lives truly are, how often our lives collide in the most unusual ways, and how we can leverage resources to transform our communities, one citizen and neighborhood at a time.

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