Danny Wuerffel wants to rebuild Desire Street

It was supposed to be a conference call to make the Florida media aware of the needs of Desire Street Ministries, the project that grips the heart of Danny Wuerffel, Florida's great Heisman Trophy winner. Instead, it became an opportunity to rediscover that as great a football player as he was, Danny will always be an even better person.

(To find out how you can help Desire Street Ministries rebuild its various ministries, go to desirestreet.org.)

He left New Orleans for Natchez, Mississippi with Hurricane Katrina approaching, taking his wife, son and dog along with two pillows, a video camera, some important documents and a few shirts and T-shirts. The hurricane wiped out his home in the Lakeview district and Desire Street Ministries is still under water along with most of the Desire Street housing project where Wuerffel works to impact the lives of some of the most at-risk young people in the country.

He has lost nearly everything he owns yet he will tell you he's lost nothing that is really important.


      To get an idea of the devastation wrought by Katrina, Gator Country produced a special video -- VIDEO LINK (Windows Media Player needed)

"We have nothing and yet we have everything we need," said Wuerffel. "We feel fortunate to have that because many people don't."

There is no way at this point to determine how many people have lost everything they have. The Wuerffels can only imagine what's left of their home. A couple of days ago they caught a glimpse of a television fly-by shot that showed a house just down the street from theirs, submerged to the roof line, so they can't imagine that their home survived. They have no idea if the home is salvageable or if it will be bulldozed.

He has survived the loss by keeping things in a perspective that is firmly rooted in an abiding faith in God.

"For me it's easy and the only answer I have is my faith in God," he said. "Understanding the long history of seeing him taking bad things and unusual ways and bring the good out of them … we just re-learned the difference between want and need. How much time do we spend thinking we need this?"

He says that the ability to cope with a tragedy of these proportions is not something that was acquired recently.

"It's a perspective that just doesn't happen overnight," he said. "It's one that the Lord has been working into our family's heart for a long time."

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In the days since the hurricane devastated New Orleans, he's devoted himself to locating staff members and students who are scattered all over the nation. The anxious moments of uncertainty have been replaced daily by small victories as one person after another is located.

There were many anxious moments for Danny as he tried to locate Anthony Pollard, a teacher at the Desire Street Academy who is one of the ministry's many success stories.

"He has grown to be a dear friend from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans and he's a bright young teacher and pastor," said Weurffel. "Last week my wife was on the internet doing all the searches to find him and she found someone that might be him but we weren't sure. Today I was on a call with someone who said they got to talk to him which was a major relief."

Yet for each success story, there is the potential for more heartbreak. Wuerffel talked about a youngster named Heath, whom he and his wife scholarship to the academy. Before Katrina, Heath was a regular at the Wuerffel home and in the afternoons after school he was in Danny's office. He's still unaccounted for and the Wuerffel's pray continually that he and his family will be located in a place that is safe and away from what's left of New Orleans.

"No one knows where Heath is," he said. "My heart will be broken if we don't find him."

The wake of Hurricane Katrina goes beyond our ability to comprehend the magnitude of the devastation, not just physically to what was once a thriving city with a metro area of more than one million people, but the emotional damage to people whose lives have been completely overturned.

Trying to understand it and put it all in proper perspective is no easy task, even for a young man like Danny Wuerffel whose faith and maturity are those of a much older man. Like everyone else, he has to battle through a full range of feelings and emotions on a daily basis. Tears are just part of his daily routine. And from the tears, from the shattered emotions, from the concern for others and the questions of what could be next, he finds the strength to look beyond the tragedy to a day when New Orleans will rise from the ruins.

"We've experienced times of incredible joy and vision and see an opportunity to do greater good than we have ever done before," he said. "I think we are experiencing all the range of emotions. We are determined and passionate about helping people."

Rebuilding will take time and in the meantime, there are lives that have been affected by the storm, lives that have to find purpose, meaning and ways to survive until the day comes when people are allowed back to New Orleans.

The buildings at Desire Street Ministries are still under water. There is no way to determine at this point if the buildings can be salvaged once the flood waters recede or if they will have to be bulldozed so things can start all over again. There is also a financial crunch. The storm hit at a time when there wasn't much cash reserve. Summer months are the worst for charitable giving and with all the summer programs that are run by Desire Street Ministries, there has been a drain on the bank accounts.

Still, things move on. No one is waiting to see what will happen next; rather the staff is making plans to keep the ministries alive. Wuerffel is negotiating to relocate Desire Street Academy to a temporary location south of Jackson, Mississippi, and there are contingency plans for another location should Plan A fail. The target date for re-opening is October 3.

"We are looking to restart our school --- Desire Street Academy --- as a satellite boarding school where we can provide room board and a nurturing environment for the students," he said.

And while plans are being made to re-open the school, the search goes on to find the students. That is a daunting task since families have been relocated all over the southeastern United States and Texas.

"We had 192 boys in our school and we are finding them daily in shelters around our country," said Wuerffel, who admitted that 30-50 percent of the kids have been accounted for. "We have a lot of them in Texas, some in Tennessee, some in Oklahoma and Arkansas."

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In his five years on the Florida campus, Wuerffel was a constant source of inspiration. It wasn't just on the football field that he made his impact. He touched lives and found ways to help others discover meaning and purpose through his basic goodness and willingness to share his faith.

His career in the National Football League never achieved the success he found at Florida, but the NFL was just a springboard to life after football. It was through the NFL that he found his way to New Orleans where he felt God's calling to involve himself on a fulltime basis with Desire Street Ministries. Through this ministry, he's continued to impact lives in a positive way.

He never worried about the future, always trusting God for that, but now his life has been interrupted. He doesn't worry about his personal needs but he works to help those who have nothing regain hope for the future.

Now that he is in need, the people whose lives he has impacted are daily asking what can they do to help? He's overwhelmed by the generosity that he's found from the Gator Nation.

"My wife and I have experienced incredible support and love and joy and compassion from all sorts of people and it's meant so much to us," he said. "As a ministry, all the people who have known and supported us over the years are right there with us in incredible ways.

"The Gator Nation is stepping forward in an incredible way. The university … the people … it's incredible to see the support from the Gator Nation. ‘How can we help?' Those are the biggest four words that we have heard."

At the website (desirestreet.org) people can find various ways they can lend financial and other support. Financial needs are great, but Wuerffel also says that people can reach out by purchasing gift cards from Wal-Mart so that people can buy the basic necessities of life.

From the ruins of New Orleans he can envision a time when the city will be rebuilt and even a place like the Desire Street housing project, once deemed the worst possible place to live in America, will be rebuilt only this time in a way that is a reflection of a positive future not a grim reminder of a negative past.

"We may have an opportunity to rebuild it in a way that we would desire it to be," he said.

He has determined to be a beacon of faith for others during a terrible time. He admits that he doesn't have all the answers. He doesn't know why such a tragedy happened but he knows that ultimately, God has a plan. He won't worry about the future but instead he will take things day to day while he tries to fulfill the purpose that he believes God put him on earth to accomplish.

"I do believe that God is in control," he said. "I believe that God is good and there are lots of things in the world we live in that aren't the way they should be. There are natural disasters. There's the worst part of humanity that has come out in the city in the aftermath yet I believe in all that, somehow God is doing some things that inevitably will be good.

"Romans 8:28 tells us we know that all things work together for good. All things aren't good but things can work together for good. Part of my faith reminds me that this is not my ultimate home and things will not be ideal here, but we have the opportunity to do a lot of good."

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To find ways that you can help in this time of need, please go to desirestreet.org. At the website you can find many different ways to support this worthy organization in such a great time of need.


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