In 2008, NFL football player Andrew Whitworth and wife Melissa made a decision to invest back into their community by creating a non-profit organization that would impact area youth and families. Andrew Whitworth, a former West Monroe High school and LSU football star, was drafted in the second round to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006. His wife, Melissa Clark Whitworth, is a Louisiana Tech graduate, former Miss Louisiana and award winning journalist that spent time on the air as a news anchor.
The Whitworth’s felt strongly that their success was rooted deeply in the community and the friends and family that helped them along the way. Youth development was an idea that resonated with Andrew from the beginning. At 6 feet 8 inches tall, most of us can’t help but look up to him. However, it is the weight with which he speaks that truly creates the impact. The ideas of hard work, perseverance, passion, dedication, and “Reckless optimism” are his focus when speaking to young leaders. His desire is to inspire youth to have fun and be optimistic and to remember that attitude and reactions matter. How one responds to any and all situations will be a big factor that determines future success.
Andrew’s 10 years in the NFL has certainly served as a testament to these statements. Serving as a team leader for many years, he has been able to be a part of the daily lives of many players. He values his role as a teacher and leader both on and off the field. His focus earned him a spot in the 2015 Pro Bowl, a well-deserved honor.
The Big Whit 77 foundation serves a mission to impact the lives of youth and families in local communities. Because of Andrew’s commitment to positive development of youth, the scholarship program was the first to launch from the foundation. Whit’s Warriors offers financial assistance to high school seniors in Ouachita and Lincoln Parishes. Selection criteria include a minimum 3.0 GPA, campus and community involvement, athletic or arts participation and willingness to pursue higher education. The program has grown tremendously over the last few years and has awarded over 400,000 dollars in scholarships and school supplies. All students that apply for the scholarship are invited to attend a leadership conference hosted by Andrew and Melissa Whitworth. Students are given the opportunity to network among other students, increase team building abilities, and ask questions to a panel of community professionals. Students gain knowledge on what it takes to succeed in fields such as medicine, engineering, finance, ministry, and many more. Many of our former Whit’s Warriors have graduated college and moved into an established career field.
The second program introduced from the Big Whit 77 Foundation was Open Arms. This piece was driven by Melissa’s passion that families who have the heart to adopt should be supported and encouraged throughout their journey. Open Arms is one of the only programs in the state that offers financial assistance to families in the process of adoption. It is important to us that those families who are called to adoption are not turned away because of overwhelming cost. The foundation has awarded 6 grants to 6 wonderful families over the last 3 years. Being a part of their journey has made a lasting impact for all those involved. Interested applicants must be from Ouachita or Lincoln parishes (or close surrounding areas) and have completed a home study. Additional guidelines and the application are available on the website and are accepted October 1st and April 1st of each year.
The most recent program developed by the Big Whit 77 Foundation is the annual Wish List Event. This event partners ULM and Louisiana Tech athletes with local families for fellowship and fun during the Christmas season. With the help of community organizations, families who have had a tough year for various reasons are selected and invited to Chuck E Cheese to hang out with collegiate athletes from a variety of sports. Everyone is treated to pizza and games and then a video message from Andrew. Within the message, Andrew surprises the families with a shopping spree to Toys R Us! The last two years of this event has been an amazing experience and blessed 20 families.
The foundation is financially supported by countless community sponsors and individual donations, as well as, Andrew and Melissa Whitworth. We truly could not have the reach that we do without the dedication, commitment and investment the community has made in the foundation. Supporters can earmark donations to a particular program, donate in general, or attend fundraisers when available to support the steadfast mission.
The Whitworth’s divide their time among Louisiana and Cincinnati and stay busy on and off season. They have 4 children: 5 year old twins Drew and Sarah, 4 year old Michael, and 1 year old Katherine. Both Andrew and Melissa stay involved in the foundation as well as countless other organizations.