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Success Stories

After dedicating their lives to the league, many challenges are unforeseen for athletes. However, through the help of The Golden Heart Fund and the determination and humility of athletes, there has been success. 

Lynn Thomas fumble recovery.

Love & Dedication: Ms. Bettye & Lynn Thomas

Former defensive back Lynn Thomas played two seasons (1981-82) with the 49ers and made a significant impact. During Super Bowl XVI, Thomas made a fumble recovery that helped the 49ers secure a 26-21 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. Although this Super Bowl was a fond memory for Thomas, “he was grateful to have made lifelong friendships while on the 49ers, that turned into family” stated his wife, Bettye.

Thomas was a fifth-round selection by the Niners in 1981, where he joined fellow rookie defensive backs Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, and Carlton Williamson. Bettye described Thomas’ friendship with the group as more like family, and the bond they held went beyond football.

Several years after Thomas’ football career ended the couple began to experience hard times…as do many retired players. Thomas turned to his family for assistance; in this case, his family included his former team, and teammate Lott -- who connected them to The Golden Heart Fund. Bettye and her husband were awarded several grants from The Golden Heart Fund.  said Bettye while quoting not only her husband but also her own experience. 

"Once a Niner, always a Niner is what Lynn used to say, and they have lived up to that expectation,"

Ms. Bettye
Lynn Thomas, Former 49ers Defensive  Back

In April 2021, Thomas passed, and Bettye found herself grieving her beloved husband and figuring out his burial arrangements. Knowing that the Niners were family, she reached out to her husband's old teammate, Lott, who once again connected her with The Golden Heart Fund. The fund assisted by covering many of the costs.

Ms. Bettye

Years later, Thomas was diagnosed with cancer, resulting in both legs needing amputation, however, Bettye said that did not change him. Lynn was still the same comical person; their love never depleted but grew throughout the years. Thomas still made gestures to show his love, including reaching out to his old friend and teammate, Lott, for tickets to a game. Lynn and Bettye were flown out and watched a 49er game. A dream for Bettye came true through the efforts of Thomas, his former teammates, and his former team. She found joy in seeing players, alumni, and their families all joined together. "That day was wonderful, and everyone was like family,” emphasized Bettye. Her fondest memory is when Lott lifted Thomas over the railing that separates the stands from the field and brought Thomas onto the sidelines.

Today, Bettye is at ease knowing her husband is at rest, and she is in a beautiful home where she can raise her godchild. She attributes her stability to The Golden Heart Fund and the 49ers family assistance in this process. 

"If you need to come to them, they mean what they say. They are family and have made me feel like family. They will do the same thing for you as they have done for me and my husband."

Ms. Bettye
Dennis Brown sits on the sidelines awaiting his chance to take the field.

A Player's Transformation: Dennis Brown

Former defensive lineman Dennis Brown played seven seasons for the 49ers from 1990-96 and was a starter on the team when they won the Super Bowl in 1994. After sports injuries forced Dennis to retire from football, he described the burden of feeling like he couldn’t provide for his family, which brought him back to his own experience as a child.

When Dennis was a boy, his father was injured on the job as a roofer. For a period of time, his family was homeless while he waited for his father’s back to get better… but it never healed. Eventually his father accepted his circumstances and moved the family from their car to a shelter. The stability of housing helped Dennis’s father return to school to become a pharmacist and later, a professor.

Don’t let pride prevent you from accepting the help you need. If you isolate yourself, if you disappear, you shut yourself off from great miracles.

Dennis Brown
Former 49ers Defensive Lineman

Perhaps it was his father’s example of resiliency that helped Dennis overcome some of his darkest days when he spent many nights sleeping in his car.

During a difficult period of depression and homelessness, Dennis reached out for support. He credits Alcoholics Anonymous with his four years of sobriety and The Golden Heart Fund with helping him get back on his feet. The Golden Heart Fund provided Dennis with emotional and financial support to see him through his recovery. When he was ready, GHF also encouraged him to do things that were outside of his comfort zone, like public speaking and auditioning for a job at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, where he has been an on-air personality for three years.

“My story is unique to me, but I don’t think it’s unique how people become homeless,” Dennis said.

Today, Dennis is thriving in a career dedicated to community service. When the pandemic broke out in 2020, he volunteered six days a week for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank that serves 33,000 families a week. Before long, they hired him to oversee their outreach program.

He has spent the past two years tackling food insecurity and serving YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, churches, and schools with the organization. Currently he staffs a San Francisco-Marin Food Bank emergency pop-up pantry that feeds 950 people with fresh food in the Bayview Hunter-Point and Tenderloin neighborhoods.

Dennis has won the 49ers alumni community service award for eight consecutive years and is an active member of several alumni groups. He continues to share his story with others as an example of perseverance, accepting help, and the power of service.

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The power of The Golden Heart Fund is that it’s led by former players who have overcome their own challenges after hanging up their uniforms.

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