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Brian Warren wanted to help children who were without educational resources to succeed.Handout

The donor: Brian Warren

The gift: Founding Start2Finish

The reason: To improve literacy and fitness among at-risk children

Brian Warren saw a lot of Canada during his eight years as an all-star linebacker in the Canadian Football League, where he won two Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos and Toronto Argonauts.

He also became frustrated at the increasing inequality he witnessed and the number of children who lacked the educational resources to succeed. “I wondered, why weren’t there more resources and more things to balance the playing field?” he recalled. “It really began to [bother] me.”

Start2Finish gets funding from individual donations, corporate sponsorship and grants.

After he retired from football in 1993, Mr. Warren got involved with a variety of non-profit projects and eventually created Start2Finish in 2000. The after-school program is aimed at children in at-risk neighbourhoods in Grades 1 to 6 and it combines physical activity with literacy. Children in the 32-week program run, play active games and also learn new words and read books with the help of mentors. Start2Finish works with school boards in 50 communities across Canada and has helped more than 50,000 children. The Burlington, Ont.-based charity also has a backpack program that provides school supplies to students. Funding comes from individual donations, corporate sponsorship and grants.

“This has been the ride of a lifetime,” said Mr. Warren, who is a dual Canadian and U.S. citizen. “Most people won’t remember how many times I went after a quarterback and won a championship, but they’ll remember the kids who are valuable contributors in their community.”