Giving Back: NFL Pro Kurt Warner Helps Rebuild His Home Town

Arizona Cardinals player helped raise $675,000 for storm cleanup effort.

ByBy: Susan Aasen
June 19, 2009, 5:07 PM

June 19, 2009— -- Kurt Warner's legendary arm made the former supermarket stock boy a Super Bowl MVP. These days, the NFL quarterback is also putting that arm to a different use: wielding a hammer to help rebuild Cedar Rapids, Iowa -- his hometown.

"I want to do what I can for my hometown and the people in the Midwest," said Warner, 37, who guided the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl in 1999.

"Growing up there, having a lot of family there -- and I think it's something that I can have direct impact on."

A year ago, severe flooding swamped hundreds of homes and threatened lives in Cedar Rapids, and the recovery is still not complete.

Iowa's second-largest city saw an estimated $5 billion in damage after the Cedar River washed over levees and covered roughly 1,300 city blocks, according to the city estimates.

Many neighborhoods, including the downtown historic business districts, were flooded.

"The one thing I always knew about people in Iowa [is that] they're gonna fight, and they're gonna battle, and they're gonna make their way back," said Warner.

For much of this year, Warner has been working to bring Cedar Rapids back to life. He has been using his well-known name to raise much needed funds to rebuild homes.

Warner and his wife, Brenda, run Brenda's First Things First Foundation, which already has raised nearly $700,000 for Cedar Rapids.

Warner, who now plays for the Arizona Cardinals, also went to work recently with Habitat for Humanity. He and his wife joined more than 500 others to help build 20 Habitat for Humanity houses in Cedar Rapids as part of the annual Habitat for Humanity AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon.

The houses are being built in partnership with families affected by the floods that devastated much of Iowa in 2008.

"You're building a home which you know is going to be filled with a lifetime of memories and joy for a family, " said Warner, who was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV.

Warner grew up in Cedar Rapids, eventually rising to become a star quarterback at a local high school. But the town is also where he returned time and time again, especially when times were tough.

He traveled back to Cedar Rapids after being cut by the Green Bay Packers in 1994.

"To help pay bills, and to feel like I was bringing something to the table, I took a job as the night stock guy at the local Hy-Vee [grocery store]," he said.

"We would pick up, maybe it was candy, that we could toss around. And we'd try to hit people over the aisles so we could work on our accuracy a little bit there."

Warner also credits Cedar Rapids with installing a sense of small town values in his life.

"We always want to let our kids know that it's not about what we get, it's about what we give," he said. "So whenever we go out to a restaurant, we have our family look around the restaurant and pick out a family, whoever it may be, to purchase their dinner."

But, Warner cautioned, even the best intentions can backfire.

"So a big gentleman walked back to our table afterwards and just said, 'I wanted to say thank you for the meal,'" Warner recalled. "And he went on to share that he was currently a player on the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. So here I am in the middle of Super Bowl week, and I'm buying meals for my opponents. But obviously, it didn't pay any dividends. They didn't give any kickbacks when it came Sunday."

Warner said a sense of caring for others is what spurred him to donate his time and money to rebuilding Cedar Rapids.

"I don't ever want to forget where I came from," he said. "That's the legacy that I want to leave, [a legacy that] is much bigger than how many Super Bowls I've played in, or how many touchdown passes I threw -- but it's really about how many lives did I impact along the way. And hopefully that's something I never forget. "

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