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Ice Hockey in Harlem Program Continues to Serve Local Youth

By Dan Scifo, 07/07/23, 12:30PM MDT


The non-profit organization has been supporting kids in Harlem for 36 years

Malik Garvin is one of the many success stories to emerge from the Ice Hockey in Harlem program during its 36 years of existence.

Garvin was named executive director of Ice Hockey in Harlem in November 2022. Before he earned his new role, he was a product and former player within the organization.

“I’ve lived it, but I’ve been doing it as an alumni of the program,” Garvin said. “I had a very positive experience in our program, which is about creating better people and developing life skills through the sport of ice hockey.”

Ice Hockey in Harlem is a community-based nonprofit organization that offers ice hockey and enrichment programming to boys and girls, ages 4-18, who reside in Harlem.

The organization’s vision is to empower successful young leaders, students and athletes who are resilient, confident and committed to education and their community. The program seeks to support those leaders with high-quality ice hockey programming, as well as off-ice sessions that expose young people in Harlem to educational experiences that improve their academic engagement, grow and strengthen their character and prepare them for the future.

“Our kids are hockey players, and they identify as hockey players, but all we’re trying to do is build better people,” Garvin said. “We know it will happen through hockey and education and we’re heavily invested in educational opportunities and broadening horizons. That’s what it’s all about, is broadening horizons.”

Ice Hockey in Harlem started with 40 participants in the winter of 1987 as an after-school program. In the past, the program has served upwards of 250 boys and girls. But currently, Garvin said the program features about 175 boys and girls, primarily because the organization’s home rink, Lasker Rink in Central Park, is currently in the second year of a three-year renovation project.

“We are making a conscious effort to keep it around 175-200 participants because we want to provide quality over quantity, especially without a home rink right now,” Garvin said. “We’re in a good position right now, but once we have our house in order, we want to grow and expand again.”

Last season Ice Hockey in Harlem operated out of three different rinks throughout the city. There’s one team at every age group and more than 40 volunteer coaches with Division I, high school and travel hockey credentials.

Students are required to attend weekly classroom sessions as a condition for participation in the program, as the curriculum teaches geography, history, social studies, math, reading and writing while using hockey as the central reference for study. This includes hockey literature, cities, statistics, players, rules of play and more in its educational programming.

“A lot of these kids wouldn’t be friends on the playground, but by the end of the season they develop these amazing bonds and a love for the game,” said Karim Demirdache, a head coach who has been with the organization for more than 15 years. “It keeps them out of trouble, and it keeps them focused and excited. There’s no screen time and it’s all about having fun and learning the game.”

No experience is required to join the program, and all activities and programs are offered at no cost to the participants. Ice hockey programming takes place from November to March. All students practice at least 90 minutes once a week and enrichment programming is provided throughout the year.

“Education is the goal,” said Demirdache, who is originally from Ottawa, Ontario. “We want to make sure they stay in school, they’re doing well in school and in the community. We want to use hockey as a springboard to something better for them. It’s also about teaching kids how to skate, teaching them how to play hockey and putting them on the ice. For the coaches, it’s about paying it forward. We’re using sports to help the kids.”

The organization has a significant partnership with all three local NHL teams — the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils — in addition to other colleges and organizations.

Earlier this year, all Ice Hockey in Harlem participants were provided new helmets.. They were also offered an opportunity to paint the ice at Madison Square Garden and meet Rangers’ defenseman K’Andre Miller.

The New York Islanders recently donated $50,000 to the Organization in honor of the team’s 50th anniversary. The New Jersey Devils also made a donation, invited Ice Hockey in Harlem to a game in a suite, and gave the proceeds of the 50-50 raffle to the program this past season. Multiple Ice Hockey in Harlem teams skated during intermissions of games involving all three teams.

“We receive great support from all of our local teams,” Garvin said. “We’re a neutral party to all three teams because we want to give these kids as many opportunities as we can.”

The Metropolitan Riveters, a local professional women’s hockey team in the Premier Hockey Federation, skated with Ice Hockey in Harlem players during the winter. There are additional enrichment programs, like the organization’s “speaker series”, which invites guests to discuss how hockey has impacted their professional lives, in addition to a college exploration series and summer camps.

“It’s all about exposing the kids to higher education, too,” Garvin said. “It’s all just important, if not more important, than the sport of ice hockey. Some of these kids wouldn’t otherwise be able to have these experiences.”

The funds raised from events help support the organization’s mission to empower participants to become more resilient, confident and committed to education and their community. It’s all worth it for Demirdache, who has witnessed it all up close for the last 15-plus years.

“On the first day, you’re teaching some of the kids how to protect the puck and skate with their head up,” Demirdache said. “You see that progress and then all of the sudden, the light switch goes off and that’s the most rewarding part of it all.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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