• October 31, 2014

A Former NFL Team Owner Champions Controversial Causes

Focus on helping girls caught up in sex trafficking, reducing rapes in the military

A Former NFL Team Owner Champions Controversial Causes 1

Bruce Lipsky/Florida Times-Union

Delores Barr Weaver, former co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars football team, gave $50-million to the local community foundation in part out of a sense of civic pride, she says.

Delores Barr Weaver is one philanthropist who loves to stir up trouble.

The former co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars football team is providing charities with tens of millions of dollars to deal with hot-button topics like preventing teenage pregnancy, ending what she calls an epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military, and helping girls who are caught up in sex trafficking and the juvenile-justice system.

“These are tough issues, and I understand that they may make people uncomfortable,” Ms. Weaver says. “But part of what I hope to do is to show others that it’s OK to take on controversial issues.”

While Ms. Weaver has long been a generous donor, especially to causes that help women and girls, she was able to put more muscle behind her giving when she and her husband, Wayne, sold the National Football League team last year.

She donated $50-million of her windfall to the local community foundation and moved the couple’s family fund there.

The total $73.7-million donation Delores and Wayne Weaver made to the Community Foundation in Jacksonville, along with another $10-million they gave to the Baptist Health Foundation, ranked them at No. 17 on The Chronicle’s list of the 50 most generous donors of 2012.

Adopted Hometown

Ms. Weaver’s decision to put her own money into a fund at the community foundation here reflects her deep affection for her adopted hometown.

She and her husband moved here from Connecticut in 1993 as owners of the city’s new team.

Before the franchise had hired a single player, Ms. Weaver started the Jaguars Foundation, which immediately set about providing $1-million annually to help needy children in the Jacksonville area.

Through the couple’s ownership of the team, she says, she now had a platform to draw attention to the issues she had long cared about the most.

“The Jaguars opened so many doors for me, and I had to walk through them,” Ms. Weaver says.

While many NFL teams have charitable foundations, few use them to tackle complex or controversial causes.

The Jaguar Foundation supported programs intended to help prevent AIDS and promote safe-sex education for young men. And she ensured that a teen-pregnancy prevention program called Straight Talk would be advertised through public-service announcements on the stadium’s Jumbotron.

From her post at the Jaguars Foundation, Ms. Weaver fueled talk in Jacksonville about the needs of young people growing up in poverty and, often, in crisis.

All seven local television stations, cable and radio networks, The Florida Times-Union, and Blue Cross Blue Shield joined her teenage-pregnancy prevention campaign.

A member of the NFL Charities Board of Directors, Ms. Weaver encouraged her counterparts at other football-team foundations to get deeply engaged in their own communities—with mixed results.

“My suggestion that they take on teen-pregnancy prevention got a big thumbs down,” Ms. Weaver recounts with a laugh.

'She’s a Pot Stirrer’

The Weavers sold the Jaguars last year for an estimated $770-million, and as a part-owner, she as well as Mr. Weaver came away with a significant personal fortune. Ms. Weaver, who won’t give her exact age except to note she is in her 70s, says she relishes the ability to give the money away in her own name, and says she plans to give away much of her fortune in her lifetime.

While the experience is new to her, at least in its scale, Jacksonville has a tradition of prominent women philanthropists.

The two largest private foundations in the Jacksonville area were both founded by women: Lucy Bell Gooding, who made her money from an insurance company, and Jessie Ball duPont, who married an heir of the industrial fortune. Their foundations have invested a total of more than $180-million in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida.

“I’m not leading the way but following in Jessie and Lucy’s footsteps,” Ms. Weaver says.

She differs from her philanthropic predecessors in at least one important respect. While they elected to set up private foundations—a path the Weavers once tried—Ms. Weaver chose to focus her giving on the Community Foundation in Jacksonville. “It really is the community’s foundation and that’s very important to me,” Ms. Weaver says.

She also has a deep relationship to the foundation and its staff that dates back to the beginning of her time in Jacksonville.

She helped to found the women’s giving alliance and served on the foundation board for 10 years. When she stepped down, recalls the foundation’s president, Nina Waters, the other board members presented her with a special gift to thank her for her service: a large spoon.

“She’s a pot stirrer and she has encouraged us to be bolder, too,” Ms. Waters says.

The Weavers made their first significant gift to the community foundation in 2007, endowing 22 local charities.

But it is Ms. Weaver’s $50-million personal gift, on top of the conversion of the $23.7-million Weaver Family Foundation, that has so excited foundation staff and leaders.

By its sheer size, her gift made the community foundation, already the oldest such grant maker in Florida, the largest in the state.

Ms. Weaver will decide which causes and charities to support; foundation staff members will provide back-office assistance and help with research.

“This was a way for Delores to simplify her philanthropy but still remain totally engaged in the causes that she’s passionate about,” Ms. Waters says.

Started Small

Ms. Weaver didn’t begin to think of herself as a philanthropist until she was in her 50s. When the Weavers were young newlyweds in Columbus, Ga., they had little money.

Mr. Weaver sold women’s shoes for a living, a job that would ultimately take him to Connecticut, where he joined the leadership of Nine West, leaving with a fortune after the company went public in 1993.

“I like to say that it was women’s shoes that brought us to this dance,” Ms. Weaver says.

She made her first significant gift in 1987: $1.5-million to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in memory of her mother, who died when Ms. Weaver was 20.

Making the donation, Ms. Weaver recalls, enabled her to come to terms with the loss of her mother. That initial gift would become the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research, which the Weavers continue to support. (Thus far, philanthropy is not a tradition the Weavers share with the family’s next generation. Neither their grown son or daughter, says Ms. Weaver, is deeply involved in the giving decisions she and her husband make.)

Ms. Weaver established some important connections at Dana-Farber. Greg Gross, the young man who answered the phone in the development office when she called to ask about making her initial gift, would go on to head the Jaguars Foundation, becoming what Ms. Weaver describes as her right-hand man.

Ms. Weaver’s new fund has already made its first major grant: $6.6-million to be paid out over three years to establish the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.

The center, which opened its doors in January, provides research and advocacy on behalf of girls in Florida’s juvenile-justice system, along with training for police officers, educators, and others on the best ways to help girls who have experienced trauma. It will also house programs that Ms. Weaver has long supported, including Girl Matters: It’s Elementary, an effort to reduce the suspension and expulsion of girls from local elementary schools.

“I care about people who end up in situations that they don’t put themselves in, especially children who run from one kind of trauma only to get caught up in trauma of a different kind.”

Lawanda Ravoira, a longtime girls’ advocate who heads the policy center, says that it was important that the project bear Ms. Weaver’s name.

“Her name makes a statement,” Ms. Ravoira says. “She’s embracing us and pushing us to do the hard work of finding solutions to some really tough problems.”

The $6.6-million grant is probably the largest that the Delores Barr Weaver Fund will make. But the Community Foundation of Jacksonville’s Ms. Waters says that Ms. Weaver’s real contribution is more than financial.

“She’s helping a lot of women and girls to find their voices,” Ms. Waters says. “She’s used her own voice and her influence to create change here that goes beyond the money she’s given. She puts her mouth where her money is.”

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