Kurt Warner Hammers Home Second-Chances

By Mike Hlas (Story) and Josh Christensen (Video), Reporters

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Kurt Warner's public charity is the First Things First Foundation, but his recurring theme is second-chances.

That has been illustrated in his USA Network reality show, "The Moment," in which Warner gives people the chance to pursue career dreams they had set aside when their lives took unexpected turns.

It also was hammered home, literally, Wedneday morning on Ninth Street NW. That's where Warner and his wife, Brenda, helped Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity with the building of a house that will be a second-chance of sorts for Beni Zeneli of Cedar Rapids and his family.

The Warners' affiliation with our area's Habitat chapter is four years old. Between raising seven children in their Arizona home and Kurt's expanding television career, time fills up and they don't get back

to Cedar Rapids much. But they make it here every year to help support Habitat and do some good for the city.

This year, First Things First supplied a grant of $125,000, which has gone toward the hard costs of building two new houses on Ninth Street, and for supporting Youth United, a new program that encourages people from ages 5 to 25 to participate in Habitat.

This isn't some high-minded cause that's more concept than execution. The Cedar Valley chapter of Habitat is 25 years old. It builds and revitalizes houses. Candidates to live in those homes go through an application process. They are selected based on their need for housing, their ability to pay back a zero-interest loan, and their willingness to put in 400 hours of work with Habitat.

It's a good deal all around. It has made and continues to make Cedar Rapids' flood-ravaged areas a little better. For the direct beneficiaries, it's quite a second-chance.

"Nothing is better than understanding the power and confidence gained from home-ownership, and what it means for a family-atmosphere and a family dynamic" said Warner, who grew up in a modest Cedar Rapids house with his mother and brother.

"It's a place that creates memories."

Warner is a few years removed from his remarkable pro football career, a story that still seems unbelievable. Had the St. Louis Rams not pulled him from Arena Football in 1998 and given him a chance to play in Europe to show he was worthy of an NFL roster spot, you almost surely wouldn't know his name today.

Already heavily involved in television with his analyst's role with NFL Network (and a stint as a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars"), Warner was persuaded by producer Charlie Ebersol to host "The Moment." People are given their chance to resume their quests for dream jobs, from NASCAR driver to a toy-designer.

"The premise is to give people a second chance at their dreams," Warner said. "The only reason I'm here and have the platform I have is because somebody was willing to give me a second chance."

Unlike most unscripted so-called reality shows, Warner's lacks weirdness and meanness. The nine-episode run began on Thursdays in prime-time, but soft ratings caused USA to move it to Fridays at 10 p.m., Central time.

"I can't say (the show) has caught on to the level we hoped it will at some point," he said, "but I will tell you there's a lot of people out there looking for a show that gives you hope tomorrow can be better than today.

"Unfortunately ... I think a lot of people believe the best is behind them. I think there needs to be more television shows like ours that let people know they can accomplish their dreams and the future can be brighter than the past."

You knew Warner wouldn't spend his post-football life just making appearances for easy money.

"I think retirement presented us with the opportunity to focus on our family and make sure our kids knew that they were priority number one," he said. "And we can be involved in new things that allow us to have a greater impact and allow us to have a lot more depth at what we do."

Call it the second act from a man who touts second-chances.
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