We’re not exactly sure who fell in love with whom first, but it can go down in the books as a tie – the children of Operation Breakthrough and Travis have an adorable love affair. It started in 2016, when he visited the facility at 30th and Troost.
Operation Breakthrough “provides a safe, loving and educational environment for children in poverty and empowers their families through advocacy, emergency aid and education.” The non-profit agency was founded in 1971 by Sister Corita Bussanmas and Sister Berta Sailer as a response to requests from parents in the central city for quality child care for children of the working poor. It has, in the ensuing nearly four decades, become a beacon of hope for the city’s working midtown families. The beloved organization provides myriad programs for childhood education, children’s health, and parenting programs including emergency aid.
By the time Travis paid a visit, it seemed that most of the boxes had been checked off supporting families – all except one crucial one. Operation Breakthrough had done such a comprehensive job of helping children, but there appeared to be an opening for more assistance when it came to supporting teens. Travis’ interest in STEM education and at-risk youth merged at Operation Breakthrough, and, in 2018, his foundation – 87 and Running – funded the First Lego League robotics team there. The foundation provided $45,000 to fund materials and space for the program in OB’s new MakerCity.
Travis’ orbit around Kansas City became stronger when he recently signed on for six more years on the Chiefs football team. He then doubled down on his commitment to keep the kids of Operation Breakthrough in his sights. What had been an already fantastic relationship, including the kids and Travis reading together, shopping, talking, bonding, and creating memories, became a real commitment. The athlete who acknowledges his own fortunate experiences with family, school, and football, wanted to make sure the teens at OB had the same opportunities he did. “I’m profoundly aware of the difference in opportunity, exposure, and privilege I grew up with compared to others. Where you live, the situation you were born into, or the color of your skin should have no impact on the dreams you can dream.” These are words from Travis that signify his true north.
The idea for Ignition Lab was born with his bright and focused desire to help teens. Travis is purchasing the muffler shop adjacent to Operation Breakthrough to provide a space for teens that combines hands-on opportunities in STEM with opportunities to develop industry-recognized skills across a variety of areas, including automotive and design, green tech, software programming, and more. There will be 10 “Labs” dedicated to: co-working, multi-media production, electrical, green tech, maker space, additive manufacturing, fiber arts, tech, automotive/engineering, and food truck. (Food truck, we love it!)
As the Ignition Lab’s colorful brochure states, this is where “smart is cool.” Bolstered by partnerships with local non profits, the lab will “engage teens in conversations about their individual goals and help them prepare early for post-high school job training programs or college admissions.” The Labs are a natural next step for kids who have aged out of OB’s MakerCity program. What this program is doing is providing an alternative to teens who might have nowhere to turn. What Travis and 87 and Running are doing is a version of the proverbial “teaching a man to fish.”
Travis Kelce’s gravitational pull with the kids of OB is magical. They don’t see a famous athlete in their midst, they see a caring, funny, devoted friend who gets on the floor and reads books with them, dances with them, answers personal questions from them, and takes them outside to play. Travis tells the story of how one year he didn’t have time to purchase a Christmas tree, so the kids made him one with LED lights and plastic cups! He is their north star.
Travis’ gravitas is an example for us all. Play hard, earn your right to party, be loyal to your town and fans, and when no one is looking – shine bright for the people in dark places. Commit the muscle and the money to make dreams come true… and expect nothing in return.