Alumna connects Packers with community causes

by Sara Woelfel

It could have been the biggest mistake of her life, and her mom knew it.

So, over lunch one day, Mom gently talked with Cathy Dworak, ’06, about the job offer she declined, and helped her understand how her dreams for her family didn’t mean she had to give up her dreams for her career. Coming from her mom, this advice hit home for Dworak.

“I cried with my mom,” Dworak said. “Then I called the Packers on Monday to tell them I changed my mind.”

That’s right – the Packers. The Green Bay Packers. Dworak originally said, “No,” when offered a job with the team as a marketing sales support staff person, worried that the distance from home – and from her two young daughters – might prevent her from being the type of parent she envisioned. But, 14 seasons later, Dworak can look back with satisfaction at how her journey played out since that fateful lunch.

 

After spending her first two years with the Packers in marketing sales, Dworak then applied for the manager of community relations position. At the time she took the job, the department included her plus one 10-hour-a-week staffer, and together they fulfilled about 60 appearance requests a year as well as donations.

 

“What I’m most proud of here is really taking the community outreach department to a whole new level,” said Dworak, now director of community outreach and alumni/player relations, who noted the team’s overall impact on the community last year totaled $6 million through the donation of both time and talent to various outreach programs. “On average, we now do about 900 appearances a year.”

 

Her staff of five full-time and two part-time employees orchestrates player, alumni and coach appearances; handles in-kind and monetary donation requests; develops community outreach programs; oversees community events held in the Lambeau Field Atrium; runs youth football programs; coordinates all Make-A-Wish visits; and tracks and maintains relationships with Packers alumni. Dworak said the Packers’ extensive outreach efforts set a standard in the NFL that other teams often try to emulate.

 

 

 

“I’m fortunate that this organization sees the value in giving back to the community,” said Dworak, who herself is a dedicated community advocate, sitting on the boards of Make-A-Wish of Wisconsin, New Community Shelter, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Educational Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Angel Fund for Children with Cancer. “You look at our fans, and they support us whether we win or lose. It’s the least that we could do to pay honor to our fans.”

Dworak said this generation of players embraces opportunities to connect with the community, although each will do it in his own way. While some enjoy speaking in front of crowds and talking with members of the media, others prefer one-on-one visits in more private settings.

“The guys want to go out, read to kids, build homes, sit with a sick child, all those sorts of appearances, and they don’t expect to get paid,” said Dworak, noting that the commitment of upper management to drafting not only skilled players, but high-caliber men makes all the difference. “They just want to do it out of the goodness of their hearts.”

She said the key to connecting players with the right events is getting to know each of them well enough to understand their strengths and preferences. Dworak considers relationship building to be a primary focus of her job, whether during daily breakfast visits in the team dining hall, car rides to appearances, or informal hallway conversations.

“You need to know their families, their likes, their dislikes, and you have to watch the game to make sure you can ask them the next day, ‘How’s your shoulder doing?’ or say ‘Great game!’” Dworak said. “It’s doing a lot of homework behind the scenes that people may not realize.”

Dworak admits when she first started with the Packers 14 years ago, she felt starstruck at times, especially when working with players like three-time NFL MVP Brett Favre. But today, she knows the players on such a deep level that she assumes more of a mentoring and mothering role with them. At times, she needs to give them a perspective check (“How would you feel if…”), especially during the more challenging visits with sick children. But Dworak learns from them, too, and often feels a sense of pride as she watches players gradually realize the impact they can have on fans, especially the youngest ones.

“I remember a private appearance Aaron Rodgers made when he surprised some kids at a foster-care Christmas party. They didn’t know he was coming, and we just walked in. The look on people’s faces, it was priceless. Seeing the look on Aaron’s face, as he could see just what his presence meant to the kids when he walked into the room, was very moving.”

One of Dworak’s favorite events of the year is the Tailgate Tour, an annual five-day bus trip which she helped develop. Several players and alumni ride to selected sites throughout Wisconsin, Iowa and upper Michigan, stopping in small towns to surprise fans at schools, nursing homes, veterans’ facilities, and community parties that benefit a local charity.

Dworak credits her personal drive, her innate sense of community responsibility, and her education for helping her get where she is today. Right out of high school, she earned an associate degree from Northwest Wisconsin Technical College in marketing and fashion merchandising and started her career in retail management. Then she added experiences in banking, customer service, and pricing prior to working for the Packers.

Knowing she needed more than a two-year degree to pursue the career she envisioned for herself, Dworak earned her bachelor’s in management communication from Concordia University in Wisconsin. Then, early in her tenure with the Packers, Dworak’s boss, Mark Schiefelbein, ’01, encouraged her to consider a master’s degree. As a Stritch alumnus, Schiefelbein recommended she enroll in the University’s Master of Science in Management program.

“He said a master’s degree, especially at a well-known University like Stritch, is something that no one can take away from you,” Dworak said. “It’s hard work and takes dedication, but it’s something you’ll always have and you never know when you’ll have to fall back on it.”

Dworak remains in contact with other members of her Stritch cohort group and is impressed to see how their careers are evolving.

“You see people who were perhaps coordinators at the time get promoted to managers, directors, vice presidents and, for some, presidents. You can’t put a value on that. I’m so grateful for it. If it wasn’t for my education, I would not be where I am today.”

Aside from her professional and civic commitments, Dworak is married with two daughters, ages 18 and 20. They grew up attending Packers’ charity events and now follow in their mother’s footsteps through their own involvement with local service organizations.

“They are very community driven like I am. When you see the end result of building a shelter and having programs for people who are less fortunate, it’s great to see the smiles on their faces; it’s just rewarding and it’s what makes me tick. For me, what’s important is being able to give back, and it always has been.”

See an interview with Cathy Dworak with Green Bay’s NBC affiliate.