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Michele Danno

By Michele Danno

TEAM DAVIN, Not Your Average “Underdog” Tale

04/17/13


This time last year, “TEAM DAVIN” was merely a concept, an idea, a group of strangers who accepted a challenge to help kids stay in school. But one year later, this team of unlikely colleagues — a professional football player, a 20-year-old college student, a foundation exec, a nonprofit marketing manager and an NFL team staffer — developed and executed a vision to “Live United for Education” with United Way and accomplished a feat no other came close to achieving. 

On April 17th, the group reunited in Indianapolis at United Way’s national Staff Leaders Conference to accept their award as the first United Way TEAM NFL squad to accomplish the challenge of recruiting 3,000 volunteer tutors, readers and mentors.

 “TEAM DAVIN really came out of nowhere with this win,” United Way Worldwide’s NFL Partnership Director Tracey Holmes said. “It was getting close to the end of the year and I thought I already had a clear winner. All of a sudden, I get word that Davin Joseph’s team had not only reached the goal of recruiting 3,000 volunteers, they had surpassed it. We were blown away by their effort and extremely proud.”

Clearly, Joseph’s competitiveness on the field transferred to his love for his community. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say I didn’t expect to win,” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ guard said. “I knew I had the Buccaneers behind me, United Way, teammates, anything that I needed. And with all the resources here in Tampa, I knew we had a great chance of winning.” Joseph added that his team’s accomplishment is merely a reflection of their compassionate community, and as a result, “Tampa deserves it.”

Ashley Zarle of United Way Suncoast can attest to the fact that the Tampa Bay community not only deserves this kind of accomplishment, but that they need it, too. As a dedicated TEAM DAVIN member who works closely with the Tampa Bay community, she cited daunting statistics about the area’s education system, including the fact that almost half of students enter school with a reading deficit and that approximately 14,000 students dropped out of high school last year alone.

Sadly, stats like these are not unique. These numbers simply mirror pitfalls that plague the public education system across the country. Every year, 1.2 million students fail to graduate high school on time. To reverse this trend, United Way has challenged itself and its partners, like the NFL, to cut this number in half by recruiting dedicated volunteer tutors, readers, and mentors as extra resources for students.

So how did Team Davin pull off their victory in just a few short months? Zarle credits her teammates’ unique personalities and the fact that they simply “wanted to be there.”

“When every member is engaged and excited about it, it creates an environment that it’s going to happen,” Zarle said, noting that her team never wanted to “rely on social media” to get the job done, but rather employed old-fashioned, grass-roots techniques to drive volunteer sign-ups.

Fellow teammate Creedon, a student at the University of Tampa, took the initiative into his own (or rather, his classmates’) hands by leveraging one of America’s most influential groups – students themselves. Creedon organized 23 on-campus presentations and blew the effort out on any social media platforms he could, which he said helped TEAM DAVIN numbers spike on the spot.

Meanwhile, his team of Zarle, Joseph, Angel Williams from the Davin Joseph Foundation and Kevin Brown from the Buccaneers, were busy prepping pregame meet-and-greets and other events around the Tampa Bay community. They also dedicated a portion of the Buccaneers’ website to the campaign and encouraged sign-ups online. With competition brewing and a deadline looming, the team had to work quickly and effectively to accomplish their goal AND defeat all other United Way TEAM NFL squads by the end of the season.

And their efforts didn’t come without rewards. The winning team earned their local United Way a $10,000 grant and notable recognition from the United Way/NFL community. 

Although they already claimed the title of TEAM NFL winner and formally accepted their honor this week, members of TEAM DAVIN don’t consider this mission accomplished. In their eyes, the work is just beginning.

“The challenge may be over, but now it’s about taking TEAM DAVIN and growing it,” Joseph said. “We’ve recruited the volunteers, and people are ready to work, so now we’ve got to get them there.” 

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