At its annual flag retirement ceremony on Sept. 9, American Legion Post 86 was host to the Legion’s Department of Connecticut, which presented Gold Star family Bill and Shalini Madaras with the Americanism Award. This is the highest American Legion award presented to civilians.
The couple were honored for their efforts in promoting the Kick for Nick Foundation and establishing the first home for homeless female veterans.
Norwalk Post 12 Commander Rich Olson recounted how the Madaras’s son, Nick, enlisted in the Army and while home on leave asked his parents to send soccer balls to his base in Iraq. He intended to distribute them to children there. Shortly after returning to his unit, he was killed by a roadside bomb in September 2006.
Following Nick’s death, the Kick for Nick project was started and since then 52,000 soccer balls — each signed with Nick’s name — have been sent to 47 countries to be distributed to children. In addition to the balls, the program has also sent uniforms, cleats, nets, personal hygiene items, school supplies, and other necessities.
Shalini Madaras also worked to establish the Nicholas A. Madaras Home in Bridgeport for female veterans. “It has given over 100 women and children a new chance at life,” Olson said of the home that was opened in 2011. Bill Madaras also collects goods from area bakeries and delivers them to food pantries, schools, and soup kitchens.
“I’ve worked with Bill and his wife over the years and I can think of no other honorable people who have done so much to promote unity, harmony and peace not only in our nation but across the nations and I’m honored to be here today,” Olson said.
“Nick had a love for soccer,“ District Commander Tom Flowers said of the former Wilton High School varsity player. “And he was inspired by children playing soccer with any object they could find. … It was that inspiration that ultimately inspired the Kick for Nick Foundation. Kick for Nick supports U.S. troops’ efforts in fostering peace and stability across the globe by delivering to underprivileged children the joy of playing through the gift of soccer balls donated in the honor of Pfc. Nicholas A. Madaras.”
The foundation’s mission says “Every ball handed out generates a smile and every smile generates a memory of goodwill and friendship.”
Evidence of this goodwill came in an email to The Bulletin last month from San Pedro Sula, Honduras
“At the heart of a soldier lie true Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Pfc. Nicholas Madaras embodied the traits of a true soldier who left behind a legacy that survives his loss.
“Honduras is one of the many countries that receives donations from Kick for Nick and delivers them with support from the Joint Task Force Bravo Civil Affairs office. The Civil Affairs team participates in multiple community outreach programs throughout the country and Central America, using these engagements as an opportunity to deliver soccer balls in some of the most austere and remote locations in the region.
“‘Civil Affairs is the face of JTFB in the community. What we have done through JTFB and the Kick for Nick Foundation is link all these donations for children in vulnerable locations with social programs carried out not only by the task force but also by the government of Honduras,’ said Iris Medina, JTF Bravo civil affairs specialist.
“During an engagement in San Pedro Sula, located in the Department of Cortes, Honduras, Medina met a young boy named Kenneth Fernandez who, like Nick, had a strong passion for soccer and dreams about being a professional player.
“‘When I met Kenneth he was just a little boy. His mom told me he liked playing soccer so I gave him one of the balls and told him Nick’s story. Since then I’ve been getting calls from his mom and she tells me how even after many years this story still has an impact on him,’ said Medina.
“Kenneth has made it his mission to become a motivator and role model for his friends at school, sharing Nick’s story and encouraging them to play. He also hopes to be able to give soccer balls and uniforms to underprivileged children himself when he is older.”
Bringing it home
Upon receiving the American Legion honor, Shalini Madaras said she and her husband were “completely honored” and thankful to the American Legion for its support of Kick for Nick.
Later, in an email, she told The Bulletin “The American Legion Post 86 was the origin of the Kick for Nick effort in 2006, and has continued to play an important role in its success, and we are very grateful for their ongoing support. The Post 86 building and the Kick for Nick ball collection net on their front lawn have become the focal point of Wilton town center. We are tremendously honored to be recipients of the most prestigious American Legion Department of Connecticut Americanism Award.
“As we continue into our 12th year celebrating Nick’s life, and be inspired by his legacy, with the help of Dog Tag Brewing Foundation, Kick for Nick Foundation has started a new soccer program this fall for the children in Bridgeport.”
Clinics began Sept. 8 and will run for 10 weeks each Saturday at the Roosevelt Elementary School soccer field. Kick for Nick will provide paid professional coaches, and equipment. The program is free to children in first through 12th grade and the first clinic attracted 40 players.
After establishing a global outreach, Madaras said, “now we are bringing it home to the children of Connecticut.”