It’s been 40 years since Joanna Noel saw her father, Joe Delaney, former Kansas City Chiefs running back, alive, as she was three months when he passed away. In 1983, Delaney jumped into a pond to save three drowning children without knowing how to swim. Though one child survived, he and the other children tragically lost their lives. Yet, his strong moral character and mission to do right by others drive her everyday decisions. Today, Noel, his youngest daughter, along with her mom and older sister, run the Delaney 37 Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to serving the youth through mentorship, education, leadership development, financial literacy, and the promotion of water safety. The organization prides itself on creating opportunities to build character as the youth transform into contributing citizens in the community.
One of the latest initiatives is the partnership between the Delaney 37 Foundation, the YMCA, the Hunt Family Foundation, and GEHA to create the Joe Delaney “Learn to Swim” program, which has equipped up to 850 kids to safely navigate aquatic and water situations. GEHA and The Hunt Family Foundation gave a combined $10,000 to the Delaney 37 Foundation to help provide for children around Haughton, Louisiana. The investment provides the community with weekly and monthly swimming lessons and aquatic safety programs. To provide an equitable experience from start to finish, the funds will also be used for transportation to neighboring Bossier City, Louisiana, the closest swimming pool/facility to Haughton, Louisiana.
Noel attributes the creation of an organization to her dad’s personality and how he would’ve continued to care for his community. “His personality, his compassion, the way sacrificed his life to save others. And so that’s what we wanted to do. We want to give back because he always gave back to the community in any way he could. He always gave back, so that’s what we’re continuing to do in the community,” she says to ESSENCE.
She believes her father would be extremely proud of the work that the Delaney 37 Foundation is doing in the community because that was his mission, to make an impactful and positive difference. “I think he would be very proud of the work we do in the community, especially providing the swim lessons and helping to get kids there to the pool, as there might not be a community pool. We take time to speak with the youth, launch school supply giveaways, and fill in the gaps whenever and wherever we can,” she states.
Noel adds, If we see a need, we are always there to help.” Aside from her father’s instilling a strong love for community service within her family, Noel notes that their community equally embraces them in Louisana. “My dad is remembered at the local high school during football games; anything the community hosts, they always honor us and our foundation, so that just warms our heart to know that everyone is still thinking of him; ended up us to include us and any events that go on in the community,” she exclaims.
With the 40th anniversary of her father’s passing, the Delaney family, including mother Carolyn and Noel’s older sister, Crystal, are more reflective than usual, as they are very close-knit and are doing everything in their power to continue their loved one’s legacy. “This is important to us, as a family, to make sure his legacy lives on, but to continue it in a positive light. We started this foundation to reach more people in our community,” she shares.
She adds, “With the 40th anniversary, we will have a private moment with the family. With his siblings that are still around, we can get together and celebrate with our community. We always think about him.”
When asked how she will remember her father, Noel responded, “I choose to remember him as a hero. That is what he’s known as. He’ll always be my hero, whether he went into the water to save those kids or not, just from how he lived his life and what I’ve heard, you always be my hero. So that’s how I remember him.”
Donate to The Delaney 37 Foundation today here.