• Seasoned Baller Theo Hill Coaches Leadership in Youth through Sports


    Theo Hill is Founder and Executive Director of the M.A.D.E  Foundation, a Chicago-based basketball and leadership program for children. A former basketball player who has played in leagues around the world, he’s passionate about developing character through sports with youth. M.A.D.E celebrated its 10th anniversary in January.

    Ytasha: Why did you create the M.A.D.E Foundation?

    Theo: I have a passion and a need to help kids through basketball and sports. I also wanted to give back to the community. There’s a need for positive role models in the community. I had a place to play when I grew up, I had mentors, I was in the Boys & Girls Club.  You don’t see that as much.

    Ytasha: Tell me about the M.A.D.E program?

    Theo: The program teaches leadership and development through sports.  In sports you learn so many skills and attributes that you need for everyday life and to work in the workforce. You learn discipline, strong work ethic, how to deal with adversity and more.

    We teach the basic fundamentals of basketball, leadership development, as well as health and nutrition.

    Ytasha: Do you have any partnerships?

    Theo: We partnered with the University of Illinois’ “Extension and Outreach” program.  We partner with several Chicago Public Schools, Abraham Lincoln Center, the Gary Comer Center and the Chicago Youth Center.

    Ytasha: How did you decide to launch M.A.D.E?

    Theo: It was a dream that I had. I woke up one day with a vision to give back [to] the youth. I had the entire business plan in the dream.  M.A.D.E – making a difference everywhere. It was a calling, Kind of scary.

    It took five months to get the program in schools.  We get corporate sponsorship, grants from private donors, as well as being contracted out by CPS. New Balance, Comcast, Kenneth Cole have sponsored us.  We’ve won grants from the Springboard Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust.

    Ytasha: How are the children transformed by the program?

    Theo: Their behavior is different. Many had anger management issues. Their physical conditioning is better. We also noticed that their attention improved.

    Ytasha: How many schools are you currently working with?

    Theo: We’re working with 8 schools and social service agencies. We have 200 kids and 10 staff members.

    Typically, during the school year a program runs from 16 [to] 24 weeks. Our programs are year round. We work with 8-14 schools in a year. In the summer time, it’s twice as much.

    Ytasha: Is this a rewarding experience?

    Theo: I love being able to help kids and to see the growth from the kids for the duration of the program, through high school and college. I might have a kid who has been in my program since the 4rth grade. Many share that they remember the things I taught them.

    Ytasha: What do they remember?

    Theo: They remember a lot of the phrases we have them repeat. ‘I’m a leader and not a follower.’ ‘If you say it you can do it.’ ‘Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything.’ ‘Strive to do anything that you want to do.’ We also tell them to have confidence. Many don’t have confidence.

    Ytasha: Who are your staff?

    Theo: Some of the staff are teachers, some are college students. I have a couple guys on staff who work with other social service agencies who played overseas. Teachers, college students, former athletes.

    Ytasha: You’ve had some high profile, celebrity fundraisers as well.

    Theo: We had a 3 on 3 by the Lake Community and Family Event. We had games for the kids, venders came out. We had a Celebrity Paintball Event in Hawaii twice. We had another [event] in the Bahamas with Tichina Arnold, Regina King, Ray Lewis, Kris Humphries, Nicholas Gonzalez and Brian Cook.

    Ytasha: Many people want to start nonprofits for kids, but it’s not as easy as it seems.

    Theo: First of all you have to have a passion for it. If you don’t have a passion for working with kids, it will never work. You are not going to get rich from social services.  I’m not in it for the money. You also have to identify what need you want to address. Ours was to teach children that you are a leader, not a follower, so that they don’t look to gangs, etc. Basketball was our hook. 

    Ytasha: Why did you choose to focus on leadership?

    Theo: A lot of kids are followers.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to follow behind someone. Your peers, students, classmates respect you a lot more when you’re a leader.

    Not too long ago, there was a kid walking pass, who called my name. I didn’t recognize him at first but he had participated in the M.A.D.E program. He was just about to graduate from high school at the time, he showed me his grades. He had an academic scholarship. He said he remembered some of the things we taught. He was a bad kid when I knew him. Now he’s a basketball coach and a teacher at a high school.

    I follow a lot of the kids. That’s part of our measurable outcomes. We deal with kids up to junior high.  We tell them if they have any problems to talk to us. We’ve helped kids get into college. One of our board members connected us with Ada S. McKinley. A good 60-70% of our kids go on to play sports in high school.

    Ytasha: What’s next?

    Theo: I want to expand it. We want to expand it at the minimum throughout the Midwest, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. 

    For more information on Theo Hill and the M.A.D.E Foundation go to www.madeforchicago.org.

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