By Steven Ward
Advocate staff writer
July 18, 2012
Warrick Dunn knows loss and grief, and he says he wants to share what he learned with the community that helped him deal with his loss.
The former NFL running back lost his mother Betty Smothers, a Baton Rouge police officer, when Dunn was an 18-year-old senior at Catholic High School.
Smothers, a single parent of six, was shot and killed during an armed robbery.
After Smothers died, Dunn was forced to grow up fast and take care of his siblings.
Monday, Smothers’ birthday, Dunn and his surviving family members launched an outreach program to give back to the Baton Rouge community that supported him and his family when his mother died.
Betty’s Hope is a mobile bereavement program that will head into East Baton Rouge Parish communities and provide grief and loss counseling to the children of victims of violent crime.
The Baton Rouge program director of Betty’s Hope, Ebony C. Christophe, said the vehicle will go to churches, schools and neighborhoods, as well as other community locations to fill a void of support. The mobile counseling center is housed in a giant, lime green recreational vehicle.
During the official kickoff ceremony Monday in Town Square downtown, Dunn and Christophe were joined by City-Parish Mayor Kip Holden, Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White and District Attorney Hillar Moore III who all spoke about the new program.
“It’s good to know clouds of darkness will be pushed away from these children by people like Warrick Dunn,” Holden said.
White told the crowd Dunn was giving children hope and someone to talk to when they need it most.
Dunn said Betty’s Hope, which started as an idea more than three years ago, has “been a long time coming.”
“When I lost my mom, this community stepped up and helped me and my family. If I would have had something like this when I was a kid, it would really have helped out,” Dunn said.
After the ceremony, when asked about his own grief for his mother, Dunn said, “Grief is different for everybody. Everybody needs to deal with it in their own time,” Dunn said.
Moore said Dunn’s program, which will be free, is the only one of its kind in the Baton Rouge area.
“This is going to be a big help to the community,” Moore said.
“I remember when he (Dunn) first came to us about the program Some people just want to throw money at a problem or they just have an idea. But Warrick came to us after already doing all the research. We were blown away about how much he already knew,” Moore said.
Dunn said the vehicle will hit the streets of Baton Rouge in mid September.
The inside of the vehicle will have tables, chairs and an office, as well as separate spots for adults and children. The children’s area has toys, dolls and CDs and DVDs.
Christophe said the vehicle will not go to a crime scene like a first-responder.
“A lot of what we will do will be preventive,” Christophe said.
The program will offer peer-group-based grief support, community advocacy, awareness, parent/caregiver support, education, resources and training.
After the presentation by speakers, audience members sang happy birthday to Smothers and then more than 200 butterflies were distributed and released.
For more information about Betty’s Hope, visit Warrick Dunn Charities at http://www.wdc.org.