Cathy Dworak gets Packers into the community

Richard Ryman
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of profiles about the leadership of the Green Bay Packers and how business is managed at 1265 Lombardi Ave.

GREEN BAY - While other Green Bay Packers execs build up resources for the team, Cathy Dworak gives them away.

The director of community outreach and player/alumni relations is responsible for in-kind and monetary donations, community events, youth football support, and appearances by players, coaches and alumni. When someone wants something from the Packers, Dworak and her staff, including manager of corporate giving Bobbi Jo Eisenreich, often make the recommendations or decisions.

The team gets about 1,200 requests per month for memorabilia to be used to raise money, donations or player appearances. The Packers lead the NFL in player appearances and donations, Dworak said.

"You really want to try to help everyone and you want a player or a coach or alumni to get to every appearance we possibly can, and I think we've done a pretty good job of that," she said. "Unfortunately, we can't get to them all. Maybe we can't get a current player there, but we try our best to fill as many as we can."

Packers alumnus Tony Fisher, player/alumni senior coordinator, sometimes fills that role. He also works with the youth football outreach program.

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The day before home games, the Packers host Make A Wish Foundation kids, something players take seriously.

"They really get to spend some quality time with really all of our players, watching practice and having lunch with them in the team dining room," she said. "A lot of times you'll see Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers just kind of sit for almost 45 minutes to an hour just enjoying their company and I think just reflecting on how lucky we are in this world to be where we are."

Former Packers coach Darrell Bevell, now with the Seattle Seahawks, advised Dworak to go to the players and build relationships because they weren't going to come to her. It proved good advice. Dworak said they meet with players annually, especially rookies, to survey their preferences and abilities.

"Are they able to speak in front of a school with 700 students? Or would they prefer to work with sick kids? Or are they uncomfortable with those events?" she said. "We try to tailor and ask the player based on where their interests are."

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Agents and marketing reps also pitch their players — again, rookies especially — for community involvement. Fisher also helps there. As a former player, he speaks from experience.

"Ultimately, it's their decision, but really we try to steer them and educate them that we're a community-owned team," she said. "They're all very receptive."

Community programs are a big part of Dworak's portfolio, among them the Lambeau Field Spooktacular, Project Play 60, Thanksgiving dinner, the Tailgate Tour, Festival of Lights and Green Bay Packers Empower, a program for imparting confidence and leadership skills to middle school students. She said the NFL is looking at adopting the Empower program. They started with girls, but added boys last year.

"We worked with counselors that know of kids that are good leaders and ones that maybe aren't good leaders but we can make them better leaders. They just don't know it yet," she said.

The sessions are held at Lambeau Field and students asked to make a commitment before leaving, such as to be a better son or daughter or to stand up to bullying. Last year they brought them back to ask how well they did meeting their goals.

"We want this to be just kind of a rippling effect," she said. "Now we have schools outside Brown County contacting us that want to be part of the program."

The Packers also make extensive use of alumni, who make personal appearances, participate in the pre-season Tailgate Tour around the state and attend Packers Everywhere pep rallies in road-game cities, among other opportunities.

"We have players or coaches or alumni that are out just about every day," she said.

Dworak estimates the Packers provide $7 million in community benefit though her department.

This is Dworak's 17th season with the Packers. She worked for Fort Howard Corp. and Denmark State Bank before concluding, while the 2003 renovation was happening, that the Packers might need more people for the expanded complex. She was right and started in the marketing and sales department. A year-and-a-half later, she was promoted to manager of community outreach with a staff of one who worked 10 hours a week. Now she manages seven people working full time.

Her job entails serving on a number of boards and committees, including for Salvation Army, Make A Wish of Wisconsin, Angel Fund for Children with Cancer, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Family Services and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She also meets with the Association of Grantmakers to keep attuned to the kinds of requests organizations are making.

Contact and follow him on Twitter @RichRymanPG, onInstagram at rrymanpgor on Facebook at Richard Ryman-Press-Gazette. Or call him at (920) 431-8342.

Cathy Dworak quotes:

» On Super Bowl I celebration: "We had the Super Bowl I alumni here and spent 10 days with them. I don't know of any other NFL team that's done it. We raised money for nonprofits and we built even stronger relationships with our alumni by doing that."

» On the Tailgate Tour: "For us to go to the fans definitely means a lot to those towns. We really try when we stop for lunch or different things like that to hit the local places."

» On players participating in Tailgate Tour: "If they have a really good experience and the word gets out and they are enjoying themselves, it makes others want to be part of it. I already have a list started with about eight alumni that want to go in the next couple of years."

» On her job: "It's just a rewarding, remarkable job that I have. It's one of 32 jobs in the world, so when I look at that, working for an NFL team, that's just a complete honor and privilege to be part of it."

Cathy Dworak is director of community outreach & player/alumni relations for the Green Bay Packers. May 19, 2016.
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