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.
Madaras, a native of Wilton, Connecticut, enlisted in the U.S. Army after his high school graduation. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 68th Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division during operation Iraqi Freedom.
As an ardent soccer player and youth coach, Madaras, inspired by talented children, who improvised with tin cans to play in the Iraqi streets, dreamt of sharing his passion for the sport by donating soccer balls for them to play with. While visiting his parents during leave, he spoke to them about the children’s enthusiasm and asked them to send him a few balls to distribute upon his return.
At 19 years old, one month after his leave, Pfc. Madaras was killed in Baqubah when an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol on September 3rd, 2006; ending his wish of handing the soccer balls to the children he shared laughs with himself.
Though Madaras’ life was lost, his initiative was not. It inspired his parents and Mr. Ken Dartley, a fellow Wilton native, to continue his legacy without imagining how one soldier’s story could touch the lives of children worldwide. Together they created the Kick for Nick Foundation, an organization that collects soccer balls and donates them to children around the globe in honor or Pfc. Madaras, generating smiles, friendship and a memory of goodwill with every ball.
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’s mother recalls how her son, 8 at the time, suffered from depression at a very early age and how he started to put more effort into soccer after hearing the story behind the soccer ball he received.
“With a simple gift of a soccer ball you can help a child out of a bad situation. This was his motivation; it really helped him a lot,” said Dania Rivera, Kenneth’s mom. “He remembers the story and says someday he will also give out soccer balls and that he will never forget where he got his motivation from.”
Kenneth who is now 13 years old feels strongly about becoming a professional soccer player and trains every day to achieve his dream. We met in the Northern Military School in San Pedro Sula where he first met Ms. Medina 5 years ago and were he was introduced to the legacy of Nick Madaras.
“It was here in this school where Ms. Iris saw me and gave me the soccer ball. I thought it was weird it had a name on it so I asked her what it meant and she told me the story of Nick Madaras. She told me he was a soldier and that he was passionate about soccer. During his time in Iraq, he saw kids who were good at soccer but played with cans and bottles; so it became his dream to give those kids soccer balls to play with. I was inspired by his good heart and his passion for soccer,” said Kenneth.
Sports and youths at risk
San Pedro Sula is a city with warm people, a beautiful landscape and a strong industry but known for its high rates in violent crimes. This makes its population vulnerable, especially adolescents, who are likely to be exposed to gang activity at a very young age. Playing sports can decrease the chances for youths at risk to get involved in crime and helps to instill personal discipline and values.
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.
“I would bring Nick’s soccer ball to school and my friends would ask who that was. Some of them didn’t like soccer but once I told them the story they would start playing with me,” said Kenneth. “I think it’s important to tell his story because of his good heart. Many kids would like to play but they don’t have a ball so they go out and do bad things instead. Soccer helps kids stay busy and focused. I was very inspired when I heard his story and it motivated me because to me he represents a man with a good heart.”
Through this act of kindness, the Kick for Nick Foundation causes an immeasurable impact, not just in rural areas of Honduras but in urban regions with potentially at risk youths as wells. This gift of the heart brings the joy of play and team work closer to children who may otherwise not have the possibility.
“This is one of the programs that I treasure in my heart and that I have made my own,” said Medina. “It is an act of love towards others and it is a legacy that Nick has left for children. Seeing a child smile is the best response we can get for what we do,” she said.
Through Pfc. Madaras’ motivation and inspiration the Kick for Nick Foundation has distributed more than 52,000 balls, surpassing what Nick could have imagined, bringing smiles to children not only in Iraq but in 47 countries all over the world. Every soccer ball that is delivered carries Nick’s name, continuing with this young soldier’s wish and spirit through the lives he has touched with his legacy.