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Campos Soccer Fields updated as PACE program thrives

In South Omaha, the Campos Soccer Complex has been given a huge boost.
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 10:52 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - In South Omaha, the Campos Soccer Complex has long been a symbol of community perseverance.

This week, they unveiled the improvements made possible by a $460,000 community grant from a local company.

”Anybody can have a ribbon, but we chose police tape because normally that means something bad happened and just to let you know, here in the Omaha Police Department we like good things to happen,” PACE program director Tony Espejo said at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “So when she cuts that police tape, you’re gonna run in and make good things happen.”

Good things have been happening at the Campos Soccer Fields, where the Omaha Police Athletics for Community Engagement program, PACE, has been at work since 2005.

After returning home from military service and embarking on a career in law enforcement, then Omaha Police Gang Unit Officer Tony Espejo wanted to rid the part of town he grew up in of gangs and provide something special for those who lived there.

So he began by applying something he learned from a policing mentor.

”What (my mentor) Bob had taught me was, that if kids play at 11, it’s harder for them to kill each other at 16,” Espejo said. “And that’s the whole basis for what I decided to start.”

There have been painful moments in the 17 years since the program began operating, including vandalism and theft. But each time, the program came back stronger and bigger.

5,000 kids in multiple sports are now part of the Omaha Police athletic program today.

”Growing up in this neighborhood, we know parks like this one, they need the extra care,” said Vinny Palermo, Omaha City District 4 Councilman who grew up in the same nearby neighborhood as Espejo. “And when we get a community partner like we have donating money to build it, then it’s a win-win for the children and this community.”

The ribbon-cutting showed the results of the $460,000 donated by the nearby J.B.S. Beef Plant, providing new restroom, snack bar, and storage facilities.

”We had done things with Tony in the past, sponsoring teams here and there, but this was one thing taking it to a whole other level,” said Chase Golik, general manager of JBS. “Really a no-brainer for us, being that 80% of the workers in our plant live here in South Omaha, so we knew that it was going to touch some of them and their children.”

There are hopes to continue to serve more kids, year-round, with additional programs and tentative plans to open a year-round, indoor facility at another South Omaha Park.

“The largest of tasks are completed by the smallest of steps repeated,” said Espejo, now retired from the force but still Director of Programming for Omaha’s police youth programs. “So if I can get it in these kids’ heads here, you have responsibility here, someone’s looking out for you, take care of your community. We’ll ask you to do that in return and that’s where we’re at.”

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