Before the Desire Street Community Square groundbreaking ceremony officially began Saturday morning, Danny Wuerffel dug the ceremonial shovel into the earth to loosen the soil.
Quite a few people who had contributed to the project would be coming to scoop a bit of dirt.
Executive director Wuerffel has worked with Desire Street Ministries since he left behind his football career in 2002. The organization began with coaching and mentoring of young people in New Orleans’ struggling Desire public housing project, and has grown to offer a variety of social and educational services in Atlanta, Dallas, and Mobile and Montgomery, Alabama.
After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1996 while playing for the Florida Gators, Wuerffel was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 1997, played for the team until 1999, and then went on to play with the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins.
Now, he remains focused on Desire Street Ministries and the community square planned for 3600 Desire Parkway, which will include a community center, medical clinic and early childhood development center.
“We’re really trying to be part of a lot of people who will bring a spark to the Upper 9th Ward and the old Desire Street neighborhood,” Wuerffel said.
According to Desire Street’s website, about $600,000 has been raised toward the square; the group needs another $1.4 million to make it a reality.
On Aug. 28, ESPN will present a documentary titled “Wuerffel’s Way” about Wuerffel’s football career and his dedication to Desire Street Ministries. The film, narrated by Mario Van Peebles and directed by Jim Jorden, premieres on ESPN at 6:30 p.m and will repeat Sept. 1 on the SEC Network at 8 p.m.
The film chronicles Wuerffel’s days at the University of Florida through his professional football career and later work for the ministries, examining Wuerffel’s personal faith and philosophy.
“What I hope people get from seeing this film is that everyone can do something to help somebody else out,” said the film’s director Jorden. “I think that’s what has been most impressive about his life is that, no matter what he’s doing, he’s always looking to help people. I think that’s a much better way of going through life.”
The return of Wuerffel and Desire Street Ministries to New Orleans is a long time coming. The organization hasn’t had a large physical presence in the city since Hurricane Katrina destroyed its facilities and chased its workers out of town.
Wuerffel’s home flooded, as did Desire Street Ministries, and the organization was left destitute.
All of its physical property was destroyed, while the youths and people it helped were scattered across the country.
It seemed the end for the ministry.
“We definitely had thought and wondered if the work of Desire Street was over,” Wuerffel said. “It had a 15-year impact on lives, but a lot of things happened that brought new life to us and we were able to continue, and this is a beautiful story of what’s happened in New Orleans and its ability to impact other neighborhoods around the country, as well.”
Now living mostly in Atlanta, Wuerffel has put a lot of energy into Desire Street Ministries’ return to the New Orleans community. But he credits everyone in the organization with their return.
“In my quarterbacking days, the quarterback always gets more credit than they deserve when things go well,” Wuerffel said. “I think that with the film coming out and the accompanying advertisements, I would really just want to take a moment to honor all of the other people and the staff and the volunteers who worked tirelessly. So often the Desire Street story gets enveloped under Danny Wuerffel’s name, but I’m just one of the many people who did amazing stuff.
“This should also be an opportunity to honor them.”