The shouts of “Go Pack, Go” resonated throughout the crowd as No. 80 himself moved toward the crowd at a garden party on a lake in Waukesha County.
Despite Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver being a guest speaker Monday night during Champions in Giving, the true stars of the night were the more than 200 supporters of the More than 493 people regularly give $1,000 or more to the non-profit organization each year, and a special night was held in their honor.
"This is a recognition for all those givers, from $1,000 all the way up,” said Michelle DuBord, director of investor relations & communications at United Way of Waukesha County. The local chapter of United Way has set a fundraising goal of $4.3 million for 2011, an increase by 5 percent of its totals from 2010.
“Frankly, for all of these folks to come, is just a great time for the support they have for the United Way,” said Paul Melnic, board president.
The event was held at Maripat and Tom Dalum’s home in Chenequa.
Driver said he was amazed when he heard the organization helps an estimated 72,000 people each year.
“That’s how many people we can fit in Lambeau Field,” the football star said.
A woman who was helped by the National Alliance on Mental Illness spoke before the group sharing her personal story about how NAMI helped her after she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. NAMI receives funding and support from United Way.
Despite a tough battle through life, the woman is now helping those with mental illness, has spent time on the local NAMI Board of Directors and is working toward a college degree while working part-time. She also has fought breast cancer, but was at the special party Monday night to advocate for the organization.
“There is hope,” she said. “There is hope for recovering for everybody.”
Driver’s life story has a similar message. Growing up in a poor family and even spent time as a kid being homeless, Driver was told he would never make anything of himself. Despite that, he grew up to be a successful young man with a beautiful wife, an education and three children, including newborn daughter Charity.
A big ham who knew how to work the crowd – especially during a riveting auction where he hustled between tables and sat on people’s laps to encourage more donations – Driver shared part of his story. As an ambassador for United Way with the NFL, Driver has made a name for himself by giving back to the community.
“I want to thank you all for your support of the United Way,” said Driver, who was sporting his large Super Bowl XLV ring. “It is truly, truly something that I believe in. I believe that if you give to others, that is the most valuable thing that you can be.”
After Driver spoke, they opened up the floor from audience questions. Here are a few of them and Driver’s responses.
When asked if it is true that Head Coach Mike McCarthy shovels his neighbor’s driveways in the winter:
If he is, I’m going to have to talk to him to see if he can shovel mine.
On teammate safety Nick Collins who is out for the season with a neck injury:
We lose a great player. I lose a great friend for this year. … (But) Nick is going to bounce back.
If the entire football season was on the line with one last play of the game, would he rather have Brett Favre playing in his prime or Aaron Rodgers playing in his prime:
Brett in his prime and Aaron in his prime? Whoo. I’m going to have to plead the fifth.