OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - A couple of kids who were in OPD's Police Athletics for Community Engagement (PACE) soccer program for years are wanting to take the program full circle.
19-year-old Adamu Muklma and 21-year-old Ibrahim 'Bobo' Ibrahim were approached by Tony Espejo, a Gang Unit police officer with OPD, nearly 12 years ago to invite them to join his soccer team.
"He came into our neighborhood and he had his body armor and everything - it was surreal," said Muklma.
Both Muklma and Bobo arrived in the U.S. when they were in elementary school after abandoning a refugee camp in Kenya, their home country.
"I struggled a lot when I got here," said Bobo. "I didn't know the language and I stuttered so people would make fun of me for the way I talked. When I was in middle school, I couldn't really picture a future because I thought that if I made it to high school - I would fail."
After seeing their friends on the PACE soccer teams, the boys joined the team and played soccer with police officers for years - a decision the boys say helped them land in college.
"If it wasn't for PACE, we probably wouldn't be here to be honest. They kept us out of trouble a lot during that time. We grew up in the rough part of town in South Omaha - they call it the projects. A lot of things used to go on around there and us as little kids, we used to play around there. Sometimes we'd get caught up in incidents that involved neighborhood gangs."
Espejo says the program gave them a safe haven to escape neighborhood gangs and violence.
"With PACE, we used to play in an environment that felt much more safer than in some areas where we used to play, " said Bobo.
"The program showed us right from wrong and what's right to do when you see certain situations and how to make good decisions because you're around cops," added Muklma.
"It's about love. These boys know I love what they're doing and love who they are. I'm not here to put them in jail. I'm giving them opportunities and they're going to repay me by passing that on to their kids," said Espejo.
Bobo and Muklma, inspired by their PACE coaches and mentors, say they want to keep their communities safe. Bobo is studying criminal justice at UNO, with hopes to become the first Kenyan police officer in Omaha. Muklma is studying at Iowa Western and wants to be a firefighter. The boys say together, they'd be a 'dynamic duo' helping their communities.
"We want to help our communities, but also do more than that. I want to not just help my community but also the world because there's still a lot of refugees out there that are living a bad life," said Muklma.