38,000 soccer balls and counting: Kick for Nick expands its reach across the globe
It started with a Wilton soldier's simple wish to share the sport he loved, and turned into a foundation that has placed more than 38,000 soccer balls with children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jamaica, Liberia, the Philippines, Tajikistan and Tanzania.
"With over 38,000 soccer balls in the hands of children, Nick has touched over 228,000 people since his death and it continues," said Shalini Madaras, of the Kick for Nick Foundation, which honors the memory of her son, Nick, who was killed in combat in Iraq in September 2006. "The equation is simplicity itself — it may not take a lot to make a real difference in another's life."
The balls have come from 365 cities in 46 states with many universities and schools joining the effort, Ms. Madaras said.
Among the places the Kick for Nick soccer balls have traveled lately — all emblazoned with the name of the former Wilton High School soccer star — is Kabul, Afghanistan. Here, the soccer balls were handed out to children at a women's prison where their mothers are being detained.
The Madaras family and the Kick for Nick Foundation "has, amazingly, turned a personal tragedy into a ray of hope and joy for so many people they will never meet," Branden Deschaine, a U.S. Navy police officer stationed at Kabul told The Bulletin.
Also, he said, "I gave some Kick for Nick soccer balls to some local nationals who work on this base, and a few of them almost came to tears because they can barely afford to bring home food," he said. To bring home a soccer ball and be a hero to their children was just an amazing feeling for them."
Mr. Deschaine and his team have distributed "many soccer balls throughout Kabul," he said. "I inflated several balls, placed them in the gunner seat of one of our trucks and basically told them 'if you guys are stopped somewhere and see kids hanging around, hand these out.' One time, they had a mini game of soccer in the parking lot of Kabul International Airport. It was great, and I was really proud of them."
Another place Kick for Nick soccer balls now travel to is Steph's Place, a newly built school in an impoverished Jamaican community. Tom Thresher, who was one of Pfc. Madaras' soccer coaches when he was at Wilton High, described his personal connection to Steph's Place.
"When I was working on the New York Stock Exchange as a broker for 29 years, one of my closest friends, Lenny Crispinelli, had a daughter, Stephanie, who went to Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.," he said. "She went to Haiti and Jamaica several times to work with the children through Lynn University and Food for the Poor. When the earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 10, 2010, Stephanie was killed when her hotel collapsed. Her parents and friends started a foundation in her honor and decided to build schools in the countries where she volunteered."
Mr. Thresher, who is also a Wilton resident and board member of the Kick for Nick Foundation, said he "told Bill Madaras about Steph's Place and thought it would be a good idea to expand Kick for Nick to countries in which we don't have active military operations but still have children in need of something as simple as a soccer ball. Bill agreed and we have sent about 250 balls so far and several hundred soccer jerseys donated by the Long Island Youth Soccer League."
"We feel great about doing this because it fulfills Nick's legacy of giving children in need of something as simple as a soccer ball," he said.
Mr. Thresher said his son Thomas, who was "Nick's very close friend," is still in the Army, stationed at Fort Drum, and will be deployed to Afghanistan in December.
His involvement with Kick for Nick is hands-on. "The ball packing has been done primarily at my house in the evenings for the last six years with Bill, myself and my wife, Maureen, who is also on the board of Kick for Nick, signing the balls three times each and packing boxes of between 35 and 45 balls," Mr. Thresher said.
An offshoot of the Kick for Nick Foundation is the Nicholas A. Madaras Home for homeless female veterans in Bridgeport, which opened its doors last fall. The home "is doing well, we have supported several residents who have successfully come through the program and moved on to the lives of their choice," Ms. Madaras said. "We will continue to be that extended family and needed support for our veterans."
Meanwhile, she said, "Kick for Nick will continue to reach out to the children of the world in friendship and hope through the soccer balls. I am hopeful at some point we will also reach out to the very poor villages in India — even perhaps as early as this year."
Another new venture is Kick for Nick's partnership with the Miss India Beauty pageant, which will take place at the Shubert Theater in New Haven on Sept. 9. "I was contacted by Diva America because they wanted to support Kick for Nick as their charity for this event," Ms. Madaras said. "The theme is 'Unity in Diversity' and Nick's message of reaching out in hope and friendship is an important message to their audience ... Their contestants are young ladies of Indian origin who reside, work or study in Connecticut. Their focus is beauty from within — healthy lifestyle, intellect, talent and compassion. I will be attending and speaking briefly about the Kick for Nick Foundation at the event."
The main goal of the Kick for Nick Foundation is "to reach out to children in a gesture of friendship .... With ongoing conflicts around the world, the most innocent victims are the children who don't know what it is like to feel safe and to enjoy their childhood," she said. "Each soccer ball that carries Pfc. Nick Madaras' name is that hand of friendship and hope reaching all the way from America to those oppressed children, telling them we care, that our hearts are with them. "The moment a ball is placed in the outstretched hands of a child something magical happens — they smile and a bond is formed." "Everyone who had anything to do with that ball has just touched that child's spirit. A gift of hope has been placed in that child's heart. This is our reward, our faith in humanity; we are all capable of making a difference in another's life no matter the distance, language or religion. We all have this power, the power to enrich someone's life."
When the first box of soccer balls was packed six years ago, Mr. Thresher said, "I told Bill Madaras that we wouldn't stop packing until we hit 50,000. Now I don't know if we'll ever stop. It's a big country and a very big world."