Jim Hardy is more than your average high school teacher. He is the leader of the Kensington Soccer Club, a local organization that grew out of the teacher’s passion for the game and for the kids in his Kensington High School classroom.
Since laying the groundwork for his vision in 2009, he’s used various programs and activities involving the sport to give struggling youth in the area a sense of hope, responsibility and community by leading them off of the streets and onto the field.
What motivated you to start KSC?
I always cry when I start talking about this …
It’s an emotional thing for me because the kids go through a lot. As I’ve gotten to know them better over the years, I’ve felt less drawn towards political advocacy and more towards the direct engagement with the young people. While we’re out demanding changes that need to happen, we have kids whose needs aren’t being met.
I wanted to do more within myself to impact their lives outside of school and I thought I could use my love of soccer to do that. There were also some kids who died and they really impacted me and reinforced the urgency of it. I would put all of my energy into advocating for better school policies and then we would lose and in the mean time, I’d have kids dropping out of school and dying in the streets. It really guided me to go out and do as much as I could to help.
As the founder and director of coaching, how did you find the rest of your leadership?
We had our first summer program in 2010 with entirely volunteers and adult teachers. The following season, we decided to invest in the youth as leaders so that they don’t only have the experience of playing but of teaching and having that responsibility of something to help them build their resume for college applications. And also to give them a sense of ownership, belonging and hope, while making them into community leaders.
You now have 200 kids for your spring and summer programs. That’s pretty good. How has the community been responding to them as a whole?
We’ve had to put in work over time to gain credibility. After years of being consistent in showing what we’re about, people have really been responding positively to that and rally to support us whenever we need it.
Something we believe in is supporting other positive efforts in the community. We attend community meetings and support every aspect of the neighborhood to the best of our ability while talking about our programs and seeing if we can bring soccer into certain pockets of the neighborhood.
It seems like this organization isn’t just about the kids. How is it helping everyone?
Something we put a big effort into is providing educational programming. We have a program called Soccer Athletes Value Education (SAVE). When the younger kids are here on Saturdays and they’re waiting for their siblings to play, we have our SAVE area. We read to them and give them books to take home to their families because some of the kids have a ton of support at home and some don’t or just don’t have resources. For high school students, we take some of them to their college visits and support them in that process or help them with their resumes and tell them about job opportunities.
What is one major goal that you have for KSC right now?
As a teacher, I’m not satisfied with just making it through the day and having the kids show up in class.
We want them to learn as much as possible and achieve their full potential. We want them to shoot for a high quality college experience. Not every kid is going to achieve that but our goal is to give them all that opportunity.
– Text and images by Elena Hart and Andrew Sifari.