Before the Indianapolis Colts played a single down of their first pre-season game on Aug. 20, an MVP had already been named.

Malachi meets BLUE!

But Malachi Cole wasn’t named an MVP because he has scored more touchdowns than anyone else, caught more passes or kicked more field goals. Frankly, the 14-year-old Damar Services client hasn’t done anything that typically would win applause from a crowd. But he has done something that, for him, is remarkable: He has progressed. And for that, he was celebrated as a Damar MVP at the Colts-Ravens game through a partnership between Damar and the Colts.

You see, Malachi Cole started life with more challenges than a running back trying to navigate 100 yards of tacklers. Born with fetal alcohol syndrome, over time he was diagnosed with autism, anxiety and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s a daunting combination, to say the least.

Malachi and his father, John Cole, down on the field.

Fortunately, Malachi got onto a good team: He was adopted at age 3 by Columbus residents John and Diane Cole.

Still, he had his challenges. As he grew up, his complex conditions blended into some pretty severe behavior problems. On his 10thbirthday, Malachi moved into Damar’s residential program, where he could get treatment and therapies to address his behaviors. Eighteen months later, he had progressed enough to return home to Columbus and to his school.

Things went okay for a while. Then puberty hit, throwing hormones and adolescence into the complex mix of factors affecting Malachi. His behavior took a bad turn. So he returned to Damar, where he underwent a three-month evaluation through the new Stabilization, Assessment & Transition (SAT) program, which provides emergency shelter and assessment for children who previously had no place to go and were a danger to those around them.

At the end of the three months, Malachi returned home to Columbus and began to commute to school at Damar (because his father, John, works at Damar, the two are able to carpool). Since that time, Malachi has steadily improved.

In other words, he’s made progress, like the other MVPs we’ll celebrate at Colts home games this season.

When Damar first partnered with the Indianapolis Colts on the Damar MVP program in 2014, we knew we wouldn’t be celebrating a lot of concrete milestones. The people we serve never get to put their struggles behind them. Each of them lives with a unique set of challenges that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

But each of them also has a remarkable spirit, an incredible potential and the capacity to push themselves forward. When they do, we celebrate. And, for the last few years, thanks to our partnership with the Colts, we’ve been able to celebrate some of these remarkable “MVPs” on a pretty big stage … not because they’ve scored touchdowns or kicked field goals, but because they have, to put it in football terms, moved the ball forward, against incredible odds. And for that, they deserve a celebration.

Erin Crick

About the Author

Erin Crick

Administrative Director, Children's Residential

As administrative director of children’s residential, Erin Crick is charged with directing all operations for Damar Academy – a state-accredited freeway school. In addition to leading faculty and staff, Erin ensures compliance with all education requirements and fulfills students’ Individual Education Plan (IEP) needs. Erin also assists with compliance with audits for Damar’s Children’s Residential and support the needs within Damar’s Children’s Residential. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ball State University.