By Karen Stokes
Milwaukee will soon have one of the nation’s first nonprofit, multi-sport, urban athletic centers that will be universally accessible to people of all abilities, ages, disabilities, backgrounds and income.
Named, The Opportunity Center, it’s the combined vision of Damian Buchman, founder of The Ability Center, and Franklin Cumberbatch, vice president for engagement at Bader Philanthropies.
The Opportunity Center’s mission is to holistically improve the health and well-being of all participants by empowering them to develop the physical, social, and emotional skills that define the great citizens of Milwaukee.
It will be located in the Rufus King neighborhood, on a 22-acre site. The lobby includes a space for community congregation, built intentionally to make all ages, abilities, races, genders, faiths and more feel welcomed, included, and seen. Access to the second floor includes an equitable spiral walkway that can be utilized by all abilities.
There will be many wide hallways and spaces throughout to accommodate an ease of flow for people with all abilities, mobility devices, and/or athletic equipment.
The second floor includes spaces for education, mentorship, and community, where children will be able to play chess and games, while overlooking a fully accessible pool.
Milwaukee native, David Cooks, is a T-6 paraplegic and was named as the president and CEO of the organization. Cooks served as board chair of The Opportunity Center before being selected as its new president.
As someone who grew up in the neighborhood, Cooks has a deep understanding of how the local community will benefit from The Opportunity Center.
“We’re going to supplement what kids are involved in during the school year,” explained Cooks. “The Opportunity Center will serve the whole person, not just serve to develop athletes. Ideally, we’d love to see people of all abilities from Milwaukee and the surrounding municipalities of Whitefish Bay, Shorewood and Glendale running around a 300-meter track. I see young children, disabled veterans and all races being active together, and having interactions you do not see anywhere else in our community.”
At age 15, Cooks was a rising high school basket ball star when he experienced a spinal aneurysm. Confined to a wheelchair, he embraced his reality as a paraplegic and has worked as a motivational speaker and educator, helping others to find success in the face of adversity. He is a graduate of Marquette University High School and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, as well as an MBA in Finance from Duke University, where he served as a coach under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. He went on to build a successful business career in finance. His story lives on in his award-winning book, “Getting Undressed – From Paralysis to Purpose.”
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said, “My vision for Milwaukee County is to become the healthiest in Wisconsin. The way we do that is by ensuring every resident is provided a universal and equitable opportunity for health, wellness, and recreation. The Opportunity Center will be a terrific partner to the County in achieving our shared goals by helping kids and families of all abilities play and learn.”
Bader Philanthropies recently announced that they are supporting the project with a five-year, $5 million grant.
“Generosity and vision are hallmarks of Bader Philanthropies’ work in Milwaukee, and that is true of its new grant to The Opportunity Center,” said Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson. “The Opportunity Center will engage Milwaukee residents of all abilities in both play and learning. It will be a valuable addition to the city.”
The Opportunity Center’s 300-meter track and field facility sets itself apart as the only urban, universally inclusive, non-university-based track in the country — built to be inclusive of wheelchair racers, for example.
“On one level, The Opportunity Center is about bringing people together to push their physical limits,” said Daniel J. Bader, president/CEO of Bader Philanthropies, Inc. “But, what makes The Opportunity Center special is it will be a place where city limits will become invisible and people will get curious about one another and spark meaningful connections.”
A powerful quote on the tocwi.org website stated: The Opportunity Center will not be “ADA compliant” – it will be UNIVERSAL. For the first time, everyBODY can recreate, compete, be active and have equal opportunity to be fit, healthy, and play together.
For additional information or to donate go to tcowi.org.