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Coaches make difference in South Bend

Laura McCrystal | Thursday, November 11, 2010

Brian Kelly and Charlie Weis have more in common than simply having held the position of Notre Dame head football coach: Both were inspired by personal family experiences to found organizations in South Bend.

In 2003, Weis and his wife Maura founded Hannah and Friends, a nonprofit organization to improve the lives of children and adults with special needs. They began the organization in recognition of their daughter, Hannah, who has developmental disorders.

The Weis family currently lives in Kansas City, Mo., but continues its involvement with Hannah and Friends, which is still located in South Bend.

Brian Kelly and his wife Paqui founded the Kelly Cares Foundation to support initiatives in education, women’s health and community. Paqui, a two-time breast cancer survivor, said the foundation’s focus includes breast cancer awareness and research.

The Kellys started their foundation in 2008, while Brian was Cincinnati’s head football coach, but Paqui said it has grown and developed since moving to South Bend.

“We did do a lot this past year,” Paqui said. “I feel like this is our first kickoff year.”

Hannah and Friends has also expanded in the past year, since the September 2009 opening of its 30-acre farm in South Bend. The farm offers programming and residential opportunities for people with special needs.

Sharon Bui-Green, Hannah and Friends’ executive director, said the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities remain highly involved with the organization.

“Football is what probably had most alums and most people in the community find out about Hannah and Friends,” Bui-Green said. “But once they found out about us … it became greater than football.”

Earlier this month, Bui-Green said Dillon Hall residents spent a day at the Hannah and Friends farm for community service and students from Pasquerilla East Hall participated in a “ladies’ night” with adult residents.

“People just have an innate desire to help others, and us being so close to campus I think students continue to do that,” Bui-Green said.

Bui-Green said Maura Weis still checks in with Hannah and Friends’ staff on a weekly basis and visits frequently.

“We’re still a very mom-and-pop organization that they’re actively participating in,” she said.

In 2011, Maura and Hannah Weis plan to move back to South Bend. The Weis family decided the move would provide Hannah with consistency and allow her to participate in Hannah and Friends’ programming, Bui-Green said.

The Kelly Cares Foundation, like Hannah and Friends, involves a large commitment from its founders.

Paqui Kelly said since moving to South Bend, she has spent an increased amount of time working with Kelly Cares.

“I think previously it seemed more that I would be at the events, but now it’s more of a grassroots, where I’m pretty much the base that goes with the Kelly Cares Foundation,” she said. “At this point it is full time … but it’s a great and rewarding new venue for me.”

Kelly Cares hosted fundraisers this year through golf outings, Football 101 events with Coach Kelly and other speaking events.

Paqui said part of the inspiration to begin the foundation came from feeling blessed during her own battles with breast cancer. She benefited from early detection and proactive healthcare and had the support of family and friends throughout her treatments.

“I learned some things [during my own treatments] and I think at the end of the day you see those lights come and you say, ‘what should I be doing?'” she said.

Breast cancer awareness is a major aspect of the Kelly Cares mission. As part of this initiative, the foundation sold pink wristbands during the month of October.

“We just hope that in spreading that word, that in itself will help save people’s lives,” she said.

Kelly Cares also works in other areas, such as education. The foundation has already donated to Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library and the Robinson Community Learning Center in South Bend.

The foundation will issue a press release early in 2011 announcing more initiatives, which Kelly said are not yet finalized.

Beyond football and coaching records, Bui-Green said it is important that football coaches make an impact in the larger community.

“[Weis’] legacy had made a tremendous impact on so many people,” she said. “It makes me really proud to be a part of his organization.”