Hope can be a pretty tough word to wrap your mind around. But, without it, the future may look pretty bleak.
Just ask Mike Warneke, a 1997 graduate of Magnolia High School, who is trying to inject a little hope in the country of Uganda through Fields of Dreams Uganda.
He established the organization and now serves as the Executive Director. With the AIDS crisis, malaria, and a civil war that has impacted Uganda for the past 40 or so years, the country has been devastated.
At the current moment, the median age in Uganda is only 15.1 years, which Warneke said was part of what motivated him to get involved in the "Pearl of Africa."
Warneke first traveled to Uganda in 2009 and he quickly fell in love with the people, their deep-rooted faith, and the community which he found there. It also broke his heart to see the many needs that he encountered.
"As with anything in life," Warneke noted, "we can allow it to impact for a day or two. Or we can choose to re-orient our lives and choose to do something about it.
"A man I admire, Bob Pierce (founder of World Vision), once stated 'May your heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.'
"It was hard for me to witness what was happening in Uganda and not try and respond in a tangible way," stated Warneke. After many years of planning and building a strong infrastructure with the help of many talented friends and colleagues, Fields of Dreams Uganda became an official 501(c)3 organization in January 2012.
The organization primarily focuses on providing hope for the orphaned and vulnerable children of Uganda through the sport of soccer and through education.
Uganda sits on the equator in East Africa and currently has an orphan population of just under three million. That means that almost 10 percent of the county's population is extremely vulnerable.
"Uganda has such incredible potential, and the people are in an incredible time of healing and rebuilding. We are honored to be a very small part of that," stated Warneke.
The work that Fields of Dreams Uganda does is two-fold and based entirely on seeking the right partnerships. Currently the organization has a presence in three orphanages and has four full-time and one part-time employee working in Uganda.
The organization works with existing orphanages to ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place.
Once a partnership has been established, the organization provides the following soccer-related assistance on their campus:
Men's and women's soccer coaches to train, to motivate, and to teach life skills to the students; field improvements to make their playing grounds safe for the children and to encourage additional paid students to attend the campuses from the community; and soccer kits and the proper gear to play the world's most popular sport with pride, joy, and safety.
Lastly on the soccer front, the organization hosts high level soccer tournaments where these kids leave feeling like kings and queens with a medal around their necks and positive memories to hopefully replace some of the bad ones from their past.
Fields of Dreams Uganda understands that not everyone has the dream of playing soccer at a professional level, so they are equally committed to the education of the children, helping them to identify their dreams and assisting them with the tools to map out a course to achieve them.
The organization employs an education advocate, David Mukasa, who works with the partner campuses to provide needs assessments for the resources they may be lacking. He also helps coordinate DREAMS plans for all of the older students to ensure that they have a strong grasp on what they hope to accomplish in their future and a solid game plan to reach their fullest potential in life.
Warneke will be in New Martinsville on Aug. 10 to give a presentation on his work in Uganda in an attempt to get his Alma Mater involved in some long lasting ways.
"There are so many ways to provide hope for these children in Uganda. Whether it is through your finances, by donating soccer gear or school supplies, serving as an advocate here in the U.S., or traveling with us to Uganda to see our work first hand. I would love for folks from New Martinsville to get involved in some big ways," said Warneke.
His presentation will be held at Quinet's Court Restaurant on Saturday, Aug. 10, at 6:30 p.m. and it will be preceded by an Alumni Soccer Game at 3 p.m.
Former MHS soccer players who would like to play in the charity alumni game at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 10, should contact Warneke at an early date.
There is a suggested donation of $10 for the 6:30 p.m. dinner presentation at Quinet's, but no one will be turned away.