Our recent Best of Jax 2018 readers’ poll yielded superlatives across a full 500 categories, from Best Margarita to Best Marijuana Lawyer (and everything in between). This year’s laureate for Best Philanthropist is Delores Barr Weaver. Far from an unknown quantity, DBW has been in local headlines since she first landed on the First Coast in the mid-1990s. Her claim to fame back then: she was half of the power couple that owned the city’s brand-new NFL expansion team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Since then, DBW has earned a reputation as one of the city’s most active benefactors, donating to various causes from juvenile justice reform to gun safety to school privatization. (That last one is a controversial cause here in Duval County; see Backpage Editorial.)
Of course, she can afford it. NFL team owners make millions in their sleep, dozens of millions in their waking hours, and hundreds of millions when it’s time to cash out. She and husband J. Wayne Weaver sold at the end of 2011, for three-quarters of a billion dollars. Then there’s the couple’s continuing stake in the shoe business, where they made their first fortune. In 2016, Forbes Magazine estimated the Weavers’ net worth at $870 million.
This year, Mrs. Weaver has been in a particularly generous mood. In September, she donated a cool million to one of her favorite charities, United Way of Northeast Florida. And in October, the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center held its fifth annual See The Girl Summit, leveraging DBW’s name and largesse to bring attention to the plight of young girls caught up in the juvenile justice system.
Both organizations are regular recipients of DBW philanthropy, all of which is disbursed through a special fund at The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. The Foundation had been administering a $23.7 million Weaver Family Foundation since 2007.
In 2012, not long after selling the Jaguars, DBW kicked in $50 million to inaugurate her own dedicated fund. The newly minted Delores Barr Weaver Fund’s first major grant was announced in the same year. It provided $6.6 million for establishment of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.
Though the organization bears DBW’s name, it was actually the brainchild of President and CEO Dr. Lawanda Ravoira. Ravoira spoke to Folio Weekly about the organization’s role in the community and its relationship with benefactor and namesake, Delores Barr Weaver.
“On Aug. 13, 2012,” she explained, “I took a proposal to Delores with a request to open a policy center that would focus solely on shifting our community’s response to girls impacted by the justice system. During that period, Jacksonville was incarcerating more girls than Miami, Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale combined. So this was a big dream. I asked Delores to provide money for the start-up of a policy center and to lend her name.”
The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center was born, and its mission has since remained the same.
“We are laser-focused on a population of girls and young women—and youths who identify as female—who are in, or at risk of entering, the justice system,” said Ravoira of the Policy Center’s objective. “Our work is elevating the narratives of their lives. We shift the focus away from the moment of arrest or incarceration. What you see on the six o’clock news is just a moment in time. We have a moral obligation to look at what drives that behavior: the histories of trauma, abuse and exploitation. Finally, we ask what we as a community could have done differently. We can’t put responsibility on 14- or 15-year-old girl. We could have interrupted the cycle that resulted in a young person spending their precious life behind razor-wire. If we really want to change the behavior, we have to really understand what’s driving it. And that’s what we do. We help private funders and organizations understand the histories and lived experience, the core of what is driving the behavior in this population.”
From the start, it was important for Ravoira to secure not just the funding but the imprimatur of the grande dame of Jax donors.
“This is the only agency with her name,” Ravoira said. “The power of that is her deep commitment to women and girls who are not only living on the margins but are oftentimes invisible in the community. The name Delores Barr Weaver not only opens doors and gives credibility to the work, but it also elevates the stature of girls in the justice system. We live in a world that blames, shames and labels—a world that doesn’t understand the lived experience of incarcerated girls.”
Armed with the DBW seal of approval, Ravoira has been able to move into the world of private fundraising. She estimates that the total current budget comprises one-third government funding and two-thirds private contributions and grants, including but not limited to DBW’s continuing largesse.
Indeed, the Weavers have always intended the visibility of their donations to act as an incitement to charity—an example to follow. Another local organization has been successful in harnessing the power of the Weavers’ purse on fellow philanthropists. United Way of Northeast Florida was one of the couple’s first area beneficiaries.
“This is only the latest donation,” said president and CEO Michelle Braun. “As soon as they came to Jacksonville in 1995, the Weavers immediately were amazing people and amazing philanthropists and members of community. In 1999, her first million-dollar cash gift was by far the largest single contribution to United Way of Northeast Florida at that time. But right away, they had ideas to engage the community beyond giving.”
The 1999 donation established the “Weaver Challenge,” in which the Weavers pledged to match all donations to the charity’s Tocqueville Society, an exclusive club reserved for $10,000-plus donors. The challenge reportedly yielded $3 million in donations over a five-year period.
“What is tremendous about Delores Barr Weaver and her giving is that she’s such a visionary,” said Braun. “She knows that by using her name and putting her money here, people will follow her incredibly wise philanthropy. After we announced the most recent donation, so many people called and wanted to know more about making similar planned gifts.”
DBW has also served on United Way of Northeast Florida’s board of directors, and is now a board member emeritus.
“She was one of the most active board members,” recalled Braun. “She always reads everything. She always asks how to make things better.”
The most recent million-dollar endowment donation is intended as a perpetual revenue stream. The principal will not be touched, but accrued interest will be channeled to Untied Way and its many partners in this community.