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Program Pairs Veterans with At-Risk Youths

With the unemployment rate for veterans around seven percent, Paul Caccamo wanted to help those returning from war find work. Caccamo is the founder and CEO of Up2Us Sports, which is a nonprofit that aims to use sports to help at-risk children, as well as aiding their development. Using the framework from Up2Us Sports’ Coach Across America, a program similar to Teach For America or City Year that places people in schools or communities throughout the country to coach at-risk youth, Caccamo developed the Operation Coach program.

According to Caccamo, Operation Coach is the “perfect re-entry program” for veterans. Due to their experiences at war, Caccamo has found that veterans are particularly good at dealing with at-risk youth “because they understand violence, they understand trauma, and they understand what an inner city kid is going through.”

In order to get Operation Coach off the ground, Caccamo needed to find funding. Up2Us Sports already had a large presence in Miami, and received some support from the Miami Heat but had yet to find a project of which to partner with the Heat. The Heat already had a military appreciation program, and with the high population of veterans in Florida, it was the perfect match between Operation Coach and the Miami Heat.

The team donated $100,000 for Operation Coach’s first year, and promised to give the same amount for the second year. Additionally, the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA and West Point graduate Steve Cannon, matched the Heat’s donation.

Kleiton Almeida was one of eight veterans who participated in the first year of Operation Coach. He said that when he was first placed in a Miami school, students struggled with the idea of discipline. "At first, it wasn’t easy because I came with a military background, so discipline is a must, a big-thing for me.”

However, after working at the school for a year and bringing his military background to the school, Almeida says, “The disciplinary issues that they had weren’t there anymore, they were doing well academically, they were caring more about school, they were working well with others—there were no fights, there was none of that.”

Almeida ended his year with Operation Coach in January and received an offer to work full-time as a physical education instructor at a Miami Charter school.

Caccamo hopes that other sports teams will see the impact that Operation Coach has on communities and will offer their support to the program, which costs $19,500 per veteran. “What we need to do is get as many sports teams to say you’ve got a tool right in front of you: your sport and its impact on your community. Work with Operation Coach to hire veterans.”

RELATED: Military Veterans Find Success in Fitness Industry

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