MILWAUKEE – Helping the next one in line when one becomes successful is something most of us are taught when we are children.
The Panthers’ men’s soccer team is certainly doing that with their involvement in Operation DREAM, an outreach organization designed to help inner-city boys on a path towards success. Through soccer, basketball, other sports, tutoring and community service, the program helps to remind Milwaukee area children from impoverished and rough backgrounds that there are many alternatives to following a path of destruction.
Kirk Thode, a former UWM soccer player who graduated in 2004, has been involved in coaching with Operation DREAM for four years and is the head coach of the program’s soccer team. He has been trying to get UWM’s soccer program involved with the organization not only to strengthen it, but to “bridge the gap between the university and the community.” In addition, he has helped to market the program throughout the inner city by carrying a positive message through participants and parents of those participants. Finally, Thode has worked with his former teammate and current Panthers’ assistant coach Kyle Zenoni to help benefit the university and the organization. In addition, one current player (junior defender Jonathan Stadler) and one player from last year (goalkeeper Agustin Rey) were involved with the program.
“We’re all trying to get more and more involved because we think it’s a great cause and obviously helps kids,” Zenoni said.
Zenoni has been with the program for just over a year and helped Stadler and Rey get involved with the program. He mentioned that the program helps kids that range in age from six up through high school. In addition, to help further the marketing process, the organization partners with Milwaukee SIMBAS Soccer Club, which is another soccer organization for inner-city kids. Zenoni pointed out how volunteer time among involved coaches is key, because the organization is free for all participants. He is not too familiar with the business side of the organization. Finally, Zenoni touched on activities outside of soccer that the boys get involved in, such as neighborhood cleanups, the Milwaukee Half Marathon and just helping people in general.
Stadler started with the program last year and is an assistant coach who helps run training sessions and organize events for Operation DREAM enrollees. He and Thode work with boys between the ages of eight and 11. The boys they work with compete against other Milwaukee area soccer teams throughout the spring.
“My main role is to provide kind of like a positive role model in their life,” Stadler said regarding his involvement. “When it comes to soccer specifically, that’s what I’m coaching them to do. That’s what I’m trying to make them enjoy and get better at. On the side, we try and organize a little party, little events each and every weekend for them to let loose and enjoy their childhood for what it is.”
Operation DREAM is aimed at not only keeping boys away from crime, but teaching life lessons that will help them become productive citizens. Many of the boys in the organization come from similar lifestyles that include single mothers, parents that work a lot, and not as much structure in the home. Learning how to be respectful, staying focused, learning right from wrong, dedication and hard work are some of the key qualities that Thode, Zenoni, Stadler and others are aiming to instill in these boys.
“I think it’s safe to say that everyone would love to have parents get off at five, pick them up from school, take them home, have dinner, take them to practice,” Stadler said. “But not every situation is like that.”
Operation DREAM provides transportation to and from activities for students. The organization has year-round activities to keep its enrollees from falling into negative temptations. Corporate partners include the Milwaukee Admirals, Gruber Law Offices, Kapco and Schlitz Park. The organization is also partnered with Marquette University. To find out more about Operation DREAM, contact Kirk Thode at Kirk.Thode@morganstanley.com.