The Green Beret Project inspires young people to give back with food, toy giveaway for 200 Dover families

Emily Lytle
Dover Post

Christmas music blared from a nearby car as kids and adults – some dressed in festive apparel and Santa hats – paraded through Simon Circle, one of Dover’s affordable housing neighborhoods.

FBI agent Justin Downen nodded, taking in the smiling faces, the voices shouting “Merry Christmas” to neighbors, and the arms full of presents, frozen chickens, pizza and other items that would soon reach families in need.

“This is what love looks like,” said Downen, who is also a former U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret and the founder of the Dover nonprofit, The Green Beret Project

After tuning into a recent webinar, which focused on the power of empathy and included the University of Delaware’s Biden School of Public Policy & Administration, Downen was inspired to rally his leadership team and other community organizations to spread some kindness in Dover.

On Wednesday, the Dover Police Department’s motorcycle unit led a caravan of cars through five of the city’s neighborhoods to deliver toys and food to about 200 families. Beyond the Dover police, Delaware State Police, National Guard and federal agents, volunteers from other local nonprofits like Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity and NCALL also came out for the cause.

The Green Beret Project, a Dover nonprofit that supports  youth, delivered food and toys to people throughout the city Wednesday, Dec. 23. They were joined by several other community organizations.

Starting at Simon Circle, the caravan went to Downtown Dover on Governors Avenue and South New Street, then headed to another large, affordable housing neighborhood called Manchester Square, followed by Capital Green and Capital Park.

As the cars weaved through the city streets, kids hung out the windows and shouted holiday greetings to people sitting on porches, grinning as their warm wishes were returned.

The Green Beret Project, a Dover nonprofit that supports  youth, delivered food and toys to people throughout the city Wednesday, Dec. 23. They were joined by several other community organizations.

A nonprofit making a difference

For many of these kids, these neighborhoods are where they call home. 

The Green Beret Project, which started in Delaware’s capital city 4½ years ago, supports young people from underserved communities by providing a variety of programs like mentoring, tutoring, job and skills training, and CrossFit.

BACKGROUND:Green Beret Project in Dover turns its attention to next generation

The programs are just the bones of the operation, though. At the heart of it is relationship-building and intertwining the lives of these families with their own, said Adam Kramer, the state director for the Green Beret Project.

Kaseem Cotton of Dover joined The Green Beret Project when he was in middle school, and he says the nonprofit's leaders are like father figures to him, helping him "be a better man." On Wednesday, Dec. 23, he joined other kids from The Green Beret Project to hand out toys and food in five different neighborhoods.

When Kaseem Cotton attended Central Middle School, other kids teased him and picked on him because of his weight. Then, someone introduced him to the Green Beret Project, where they promised to help him lose weight and gain life skills.

But for Cotton, it was much more than that. Now in 10th grade, he said all the leaders at the Green Beret Project are “like father figures to me.”

With his birth father in prison, Cotton said Kramer has especially helped motivate him and teach him things like how to take care of his health or how to dress appropriately. When he was failing his online classes this year, Kramer and the other leaders helped him stay focused and raise his grades to mostly As and Bs.

“He literally helps me be a better man, and I appreciate it,” Cotton said. 

GIVING BACK:Thunder Guards deliver Christmas to a family in need of a home

Beyond building up these young people to become thriving adults, the Green Beret Project trains them to become leaders and teach those younger than them.

During the year, the kids helped deliver food for the Modern Maturity Center and their Meals on Wheels program. That same leadership continued to shine Wednesday as they led the way, knocking on doors and handing out food and toys to people in need.

Little Jace (center) clutches a new toy surrounded by his family on South New Street after a delivery from The Green Beret Project Dec. 23. From left: Daniel Kpou, Krystal Black, Jace Black and Thomas Carroll.

Jason Scott, senior supervisory intelligence analyst for the FBI, said seeing these kids in action was partly what inspired him and his supervisor Jennifer Boone, special agent in charge of the Baltimore Field Office, to come out and join the effort.

“Being in the FBI, a big part of our mission is being part of our community and giving back to our community,” Scott said. “And when we see leaders being built, then how can we not help but come in and do it?”

Jennifer Boone, special agent in charge of the Baltimore Field Office for the FBI, joins one of the kids from The Green Beret Project as they deliver chickens and other items.

Representatives from the Dover Police Department like Sgt. Chris Peer, head of community policing, and Chief Tom Johnson, agreed.

Johnson praised the collaborations of The Green Beret Project, its young people and the multiple community organizations to make the large event come together smoothly in a short amount of time.

“I couldn’t not be a part of that,” he said.

For more about The Green Beret Project, visit https://thegreenberetproject.org/

For more about the earlier webinar that inspired this day of giving, visit https://fb.watch/2rkJyyr_C9/.