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Operation Breakthrough's Ignition Lab reducing opportunity gap with STEM

Powered by Travis Kelce's Eighty-Seven & Running
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Posted at 7:48 PM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 20:48:09-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a commitment to the “work he had left to do off the field,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s investment in the youth of Kansas City is paying off.

Kelce’s Eighty-Seven & Running Foundation partnered with Operation Breakthrough several months after winning the 2020 Super Bowl to purchase the old muffler shop across the street for the Ignition Lab where underserved teens could launch careers in STEM if they choose.

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Less than six months after breaking ground, the Ignition Lab: Powered by Eighty-Seven and Running opened and began teaching more than 160 students a week about much more than potential STEM careers.

Hogan Prep Academy freshman Cyland Bell says he doesn’t always like to brag, but he's working to turn a 1969 Chevelle into an electric car before he's even old enough to drive.

"I'll be like, 'Yeah, I'm working on a car. What are you doing? At home, doing nothing?!" Bell joked.

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The old muffler shop on Troost is now Bell’s classroom, for at least part of the day.

"He (Kelce) does tend to drop in on occasion, so they will at some point get a chance to just talk to him about what they're learning and doing,” said Mary Esselman, Operation Breakthrough’s CEO, who added Kelce also sponsors the lab’s robotics team.

From laser cutting and 3D printing to drones and computer tech, students earn credit while learning valuable industry-recognized skills.

"It's one of the main ways that we can reduce the opportunity gap for underserved children and girls as well,” Esselman said.

Students appreciate the opportunity to try their hand at tasks they never imagined themselves trying.

"I was very excited, but at the same time I was shocked because I was like, I would never think about working on a car,” said Ja'aries McIntosh, a DeLaSalle freshman who was equally as shocked to learn her teacher was a woman. "I never thought about having a woman that would be working on a car like this. … It makes me feel good ... that women can do anything."

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Where the roof of the body shop used to be is now an array of solar panels, teaching kids about financial and economic impacts as they monitor how much they’re producing, reusing, and even selling back to the city — which Esselman says was never really the goal, “just a benefit."

“It feels … I don't know, kind of surreal. It's nice it's something that I actually want to do,” Bell said. “Coming here you learn a lot and you grow a lot from here, especially surrounded by the people here — they are nice, they help. They're here to guide you, and that's nice ... they're more than just cars."