Driver Gives Back

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...the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there...

For most of us, that's how we'll remember the line in the story 'Twas The Night Before Christmas this holiday season.

But for two homeless families this Christmas -- one in Houston and the other in the Green Bay area -- the stockings won't only be hung by, but will be stuffed with a new chimney along with a house, new furniture, new appliances and everything they need to begin working toward a new life.

"All you're going to have to do is bring your clothes and move in," Packers wide receiver Donald Driver said during a Christmas dinner for the families hoping to be picked to receive the new home in Green Bay.

Through his foundation, the Donald Driver Foundation, and with the help of the Salvation Army and the women's shelters of Wisconsin and Houston -- Driver's hometown -- Driver is working to bring awareness to the homeless mother issue in America and has chosen two homeless families as recipients of the brand new homes.

Once homeless himself, Driver, the middle child in a five-sibling family, can recall many holidays he spent without his parents and times when his family would sleep in motel rooms his mother, who would often skip meals while working at night, would purchase with food stamps.

"I know how it feels to have the lights off and to not have any gas," Driver said. "I never lived in a shelter, but living in different people's homes felt like a shelter. You couldn't break anything and get away with it or just walk into the kitchen and grab anything you want out of the refrigerator and get away with it. So it's just like a shelter.

"Our goal for the foundation is to get all these families out of the shelters and back on their feet where they can own something, where they can be independent and on their own and don't have all the worries that they normally would have living in the shelters."

As Driver is quick to point out, giving away the homes is not an act of charity, but simply a way to lend a hand to families willing to help themselves. Because with the home comes a list of strict guidelines that must be met in order to keep the house.

"It's not something that we're just going to give them," Driver said. "They have to earn it. If you give someone something, it really takes their pride away. But if they earn it, then they really have something to feel proud about."

In addition to a stable job of 35 hours a week, the family with at least two children will commit $200 each month to a savings account at a local bank. At the end of the five-year commitment, having saved at least $12,000, the family will then be offered the opportunity to buy the home from the foundation.

"We're trying to give them some kind of financial security," Driver said. "Once that five year period is up, they say 'Oh, they showed us how to save money, they showed us how to own something,' and that really makes us feel good to know that we've helped someone help themselves."

Started by himself, his wife Betina and his good friend Andre Credit, the Donald Driver Foundation has been donating money to hospitals, youth football teams and high school athletic programs since 2000.

But Driver, having survived the days of living out of a U-haul truck to become a Pro Bowl receiver for the Green Bay Packers, felt the need to do more.

"Part of our goal was for the children to be able to receive a great education, and all of that starts at home," Driver said. "We felt that if we can make the family independent, then we would have the opportunity to help the child raise up to have a normal life and not have to worry about where the next meal is going to come from every day."

For Driver, worrying about the next meal may be a problem of the past, but that doesn't mean he's forgotten the feeling of an empty stomach. And that's a feeling that will live with him for the rest of his life.

"Maybe I can't stop the homeless issue in America, but I'm going to try," Driver said. "And I'm hoping that one day, maybe when it's all said and done and I'm laying on my deathbed, I can have someone come up to me and say, 'Hey, you have stopped the issue. There's not another homeless person in America.'"

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