We’ll get to that night in a moment. But first, we want you to meet and understand this lady from the Lone Star state. Karen Hegner, pictured above (left) with Sean’s wife Beth, is the essence of all things southern. She’s got charm, smarts, wit, and balls. That’s right, a chick with balls…but not in the RuPaul kind of way. She’s got the kind of balls it takes to start up a non-profit and grow it into a hugely successful welfare to work organization called Crossroads Housing. She’s got the kind of balls it takes to approach the almighty Dallas Cowboys and convince them to sponsor her organization. And she’s got the kind of balls it takes to push a man like Sean Payton to change the culture of a city through his work off the football field.
Karen Hegner first met Sean during his days with the Cowboys and instantly fell in love with the Coach and his wife Beth. She came to know Payton as a man who, in her words, “walks his talk.” She encouraged the couple to use their celebrity to start up their own non-profit during those Dallas days. But it wasn’t until that night in December of 2007 when, over a bottle of wine, the three of them came up with the plan for Payton’s Play it Forward.
With the season winding down, Sean and Beth believed it was the right time to start focusing on a community effort and they turned to Karen to help them get organized. She not only came up with the name of the organization but helped to formulate its mission. The non-profit will work to raise money for smaller charity and community groups all along the Gulf Coast.
With Karen out of retirement and at the helm of Payton’s Play it Forward, the organization is moving full steam ahead to put on an extravagant gala at the dome on October 10th. Guests will include Jimmy Buffett, a near roster of Saints players, and ESPN’s own F-bomb machine, Chris Berman. (If for no other reason, you should go to see if he’ll cuss out the waiter who walks in front of the teleprompter during his speech!)
Karen, Beth, and a small group of volunteers, are feverishly working to secure sponsors for the gala. The different levels of sponsorship offer everything from a locker room chat with the Coach to an awesome opportunity to run out of the Dome’s tunnels. The foundation will also be auctioning off Super Bowl packages during the gala and tickets to the Saints/Chargers game in London. (Cheerio!)
While the initial beneficiaries of Play it Forward include big name organizations like the Dr. Phil Foundation, The First Responders Fund, and Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right Nola”, the true beneficiaries of this great organization will be the people of the Gulf Coast and smaller non-profits who will also receive a portion of the money raised. In the end, Karen, Beth and Sean hope to raise $500,000 off the gala alone. That’s why they’re encouraging everyone, particularly Saints fans, to get involved.
So why did this chick take charge in Payton’s place in the first place? Well, Karen sums it up simply. She tells the story of a little boy standing on a beach who’s spotted tossing starfish back into the ocean. A man walks by and asks the little boy why he’s doing it, and the little boy replies that he wants to save the washed up starfish from dying. The man reminds the boy that he’ll just end up having to do the same thing the next day and asks “how can you make a difference?” The little boy picks up another starfish and throws it into the water. Then he turns to the man and says, “I just saved that starfish. That’s how.”