More than 400 basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs, footballs and balls of all types have been donated to Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education) for distribution throughout southern and eastern Kentucky.

The sports balls were donated by the American Heart Association in a special media event held on Wednesday, July 25 on the campus of the University of the Cumberlands during the 12th annual Camp UNITE – a week-long leadership/adventure program for middle school-aged youth.

The donated balls were collected in February at the record-setting Central Kentucky Heart Ball as part of the “Bring a Ball to the Ball” campaign. The program, sponsored by UK Children’s Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and presented by White Greer Maggard Orthodontics, was designed to foster a lifelong love of physical activity in children.

Guests at the Heart Ball were told that their donated balls would be distributed to children living in the 54-county Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) footprint of Eastern Kentucky. All of the 32 counties served by Operation UNITE are included in the SOAR region.

Several of the youth participants at Camp UNITE, along with Operation UNITE Deputy Director Tom Vicini, UNITE Service Corps (AmeriCorps) Program Director Melinda Kincer, and USC members accepted the ball donation from American Heart Association officials at the University of the Cumberlands Wednesday, July 25. Representing the AHA were Special Events Director Mike Turner, Executive Director of the Central Kentucky Chapter Joey Maggard, Senior Director of Communications and Marketing Beth Langefels, and Community Health Director Natalie Littlefield.


“We are thrilled that more than 400 balls were collected the evening of the Heart Ball,” said Joey Maggard, executive director of the Lexington Division of the American Heart Association. “We know that kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day to stay healthy, and playing ball makes exercise fun!”

UNITE will primarily distribute the sports balls to elementary schools served by the UNITE Service Corps initiative, which will engage 54 AmeriCorps members to provide math tutoring and drug prevention education during the 2018-19 school year.

“A big part of our prevention message is that there are healthy and fun alternatives to using drugs,” said Melinda Kincer, program director of the UNITE Service Corps. “Our AmeriCorps members integrate movement with core curriculum concepts, including nutrition education and physical activity lessons. The American Heart Association’s donation supports this part of the curriculum and encourages an active lifestyle.”

Operation UNITE, a non-profit corporation created in 2003, is a collaborative model striving to prevent abuse of drugs and facilitate recovery. UNITE’s mission is to create strategic partnerships, provide leadership, promote education, coordinate treatment, and support law enforcement. This pioneering holistic approach has become a model for other states and the nation.

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit or call any of the offices around the country.