Former NFL player launches program to help children battle grief in Baton Rouge

Local News

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Former NFL player and Baton Rouge native, Warrick Dunn, is bringing a new project to the Capital City to help children experiencing grief.

He created the program called Betty’s Hope in honor of his mother, Betty Smothers, a Baton Rouge Police officer who was shot in the line of duty 28 years ago. 

Dunn launched the program on Nov. 18 to commemorate Children’s Grief Awareness Day.

“I didn’t lose my mind, but at the same time, I think it held me back from really being much more outgoing, opening, opening up, and experiencing life,” said Dunn.

At the age of 18, Dunn’s life was changed forever.

“I lost my mom in 1993. I didn’t start going to counseling in 2003, so I was coasting through life for ten years and not really understanding,” Dunn explained.

Betty Smothers, Dunn’s mother
Photo courtesy: BRPD

During his career with the Atlanta Falcons, he sought help.

“I’ve never looked her in the eye and I was emotional, and I was crying and not realizing that I just had so much built up on the inside the next year, my teammates can see a change in me,” he said.

Out of his journey, the Betty’s Hope program was born.

“It’s a bereavement program that’s talking about really giving kids hope, Betty’s hope, and give them a hope and opportunity to help themselves when it comes down to mental health,” said Dunn. “And it’s not just talking about a kid who has lost a parent from death and so forth, but deployment in a military, divorce.”

“They could be withdrawn. Other kids could get really loud or have issues in the classroom behavior issues, so it’s really depending on the age of the children and the situation they’re in,” said EBR Schools Chief of Student Support Stacey Dupre.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School System will be community partners in Dunn’s project.

“Social, emotional learning is one of our main focuses this year and in the future. In order for students to learn and be productive citizens, they have to have those skills,” she added.

She said counselors will help select children for group counseling and provide resources.

“I hope that our kids can look at mentors and role models and see how they can overcome issues that they’ve gone through and see that there is hope and a pathway for their success,” Dupre expressed.

This eight-week program supported by Pepsi Stronger Together, PepsiCo’s series of community-based grassroots initiatives, and the Close the Gap (CTG) Foundation will kick off in January.

“She would want the next generation behind us to have a better balance and an opportunity to fulfill life,” he said.

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