Benevolent Spirit Award
The position of interim head coach at a premier college football program isn’t enviable. Typical coaching concerns— game planning, recruiting, winning— remain, but interim head coaches face additional, unique pressures. They are trying to earn the right to lose “interim” from their title, and often doing so in tumultuous conditions.
It would have been understandable if Dabo Swinney ignored calls from Adam Brickner, executive director of the Greenville addiction and rehabilitation facility Phoenix Center, in the fall of 2008. The freshly minted interim head coach of Clemson University’s football program certainly had his plate full. Luckily for Brickner, Dabo and Kathleen, his wife of 20 years, were eager to give back—regardless of how long Dabo would have the opportunity to coach at Clemson.
“Almost immediately, Kath and I had this conversation: ‘Okay, we’ve got this platform. How can we use it to make a difference?’ I didn’t really know where to point my hose, but then I get this call from Adam.”
Brickner spoke specifically about the Family Effect, a nonprofit charity that fundraises for Phoenix Center programs that address addiction and substance abuse in families. Scott Dishman, director of community engagement at the Family Effect, cites addiction as the leading cause of family collapse, with about 85 percent of all child neglect and entry into foster care stemming from a parent’s addiction. To combat those statistics, the Family Effect helps fund programs like Serenity Place, a residential treatment center exclusively for pregnant women, young mothers, and their preschool-age children. Dabo felt a personal affinity for the Family Effect’s focus. “I grew up in a home of addiction,” Dabo says. “I can remember many times, as a kid, wishing I could change the situation.” Soon after Brickner’s call, the Swinneys arranged a visit to the Phoenix Center and Serenity Place. Dabo recalls his impression: “This is where I can feel like I’m helping, not just the people with addiction, but the kids that don’t have any control.” Kathleen adds, “We feel it starts with children. They deserve to grow up in a loving, warm, safe environment. They’re our future.”
The Swinneys’ passionate involvement has been a boon for the Family Effect. “Dabo and Kathleen go all-in with things they’re passionate about,” says Dishman. “Coach has really embraced the platform he’s been given.” The Swinneys have put their celebrity to use raising awareness. Dishman puts it simply, “People pay attention to Dabo and Kathleen. When they’re talking about what interests them and why, people listen.”
[callout] COMMUNITY GARDEN // Meet the other fourth annual Charitable Giving Award recipients. [/callout]
The Swinneys have also contributed significant financial investment. In 2013, the the couple’s All-In Team Foundation committed $270,000 to build transitional housing for graduates of Serenity Place’s treatment. “The women who don’t have anywhere to go [after Serenity Place], they don’t want to be thrown back into the world they came from, where they may enter back into drugs or alcohol,” says Kathleen. Adds Dishman, “This investment will play a direct role in keeping vulnerable families out of harm’s way and give them the time and safety they need to get their lives back on track.” The transitional housing program, set to open in spring 2015, is just one of several projects the Swinneys have had their hand in. They have also funded the launch of a volunteer program and the position of a cook- educator—key components for expanding Serenity Place’s reach.
“I think, at the end of the day, at the end of your life, if you haven’t made a difference, it’s been wasted,” says Kathleen. “What matters is how you’ve been able to bless or help someone else.” Dabo agrees, “If you give children hope and encouragement, you’ll be amazed at what they may accomplish. They may grow up to be president of the United States. They may grow up to be head coach at Clemson.”