Thursday in Jacksonville, former Gators quarterback and the executive director of Desire Street Ministries, Danny Wuerffel, is hosting a luncheon to raise awareness and money for the Louisiana-based charity. I exchanged a few emails with him about football and Desire Street. He was nice enough to respond.
mlmintampa: On Alligator Army, I've been going back over the 1996 championship season in part because I think the pressure the Gators face this season, might be similar to what the '96 team faced after the Nebraska loss. What was the mood like for that team returning and were you concerned that you might have missed your chance at winning a National Championship?
Danny Wuerffel: I think the loss helped prepare us for the next season. We had gotten so close and tasted the championship. And I think it helped us to prepare better for the Sugar Bowl the next year as well.
mlm: Tim Tebow seems to be reaching folk hero status. In your interactions with him, has he changed at all since coming to UF?
DW: Tim is so blessed to come from such a great family. He is very grounded and still seems to me to be the last person to know he isn’t a folk hero.
mlm: So much is made of what Tebow does in the community and his work in the Philippines. For many fans though, you're the gold standard in terms of being a student athlete and serving the community as a role model. What were the things you did while in school and how did that affect you in the future?
DW: I was very involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and did a lot of community service through that organization. The relationships through FCA helped to shape who I’ve become and all I’ve done since.
mlm: Many Gator fans are familiar with Desire Street Ministries but it might just be another charity to some. What makes Desire Street special and for the children in the program, what would their alternative be if it wasn't for the ministry?
DW: We work in communities where children often don’t get the same opportunities of most kids. We believe that our job is to build relationships, create opportunities, restore hope and build leaders who will then take the initiative to transform their own communities. Not only are we a Christian organization that plants churches and does spiritual development, but we also address areas such as healthcare, housing, economic development, and education.
mlm: Do you ever worry that people might forget about rebuilding New Orleans?
DW: Unfortunately, our society often pays attention only to what’s on the news. So as the story of New Orleans fades away, so does people’s interest in helping. For us, though, we are committed to rebuilding not just buildings, but lives and communities as well, and we’ve been so blessed to have so many wonderful people from all around the country continue to partner with us towards that end.
mlm: I visited New Orleans at the end of 2006 and I was heartbroken by what I saw. (ed: Here's that story from my old blog.) Driving in from Florida on Interstate 10, the first areas you see are the areas that were most affected by Hurricane Katrina. How soon will those areas recover and when will the Desire Street Academy move back from Baton Rouge? What can people do to assist that process?
DW: The Ninth Ward was devastated by the storm and will take a long time to recover. Our facility is in what’s called the "upper ninth ward" and is in a little better shape (relatively). We have started several new initiatives in New Orleans (building programs, recreational programs, church etc…for more info and ways to help, please visit our website www.desirestreet.org).
However, since Katrina, Desire Street Ministries has been focusing on replicating our ministry model in other impoverished communities as well. To that end, we’ve decided to leave our school, Desire Street Academy in Baton Rouge and begin another community transformation ministry around it. Additionally, we’re hoping to help start and grow other urban ministries and churches all over the country.
If you cannot get to Jacksonville Thursday, visit Desire Street’s website to learn more about their programs. You can donate, volunteer in Baton Rouge or New Orleans, or sponsor a student.
Huge thanks to Danny Wuerffel and Desire Street for giving me an opportunity to speak to one of my boyhood heroes. Those of us who just graduated are old enough to remember Wuerffel at UF (I was 12 in ’96) and got to experience another National Championship. But Wuerffel is still our hero. Now that he is taking on one of our biggest challenges as a society, our admiration will only grow.