BY Jim Clash
For two decades, New York’s Figure Skating In Harlem has helped the underserved and communities of color get involved in the elite sport of figure skating. Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen has helped mentor many of the students along the way. Now FSIH is expanding to include Detroit. Here, we catch up with FSIH founder and CEO Sharon Cohen, 51, to comment on why the not-for-profit is so important – and for her vision of the future.
Jim Clash: How long have you been with Figure Skating In Harlem (FSIH)?
Sharon Cohen: This began two decades ago as a grass-roots program with some students in East Harlem who were interested in learning to ice skate. By a stroke of luck, I became their teacher and we’ve been growing together ever since. I work with our Board to set the vision and lead a team of 70 full- and part-time staff to execute that vision to the highest possible standard in partnership with our donors, parents, volunteers, the community, etc. It’s extraordinarily rewarding work and always challenging.
JC: Why is FSIH so important to skating?
SC: FSIH is truly ground-breaking for two reasons: One is because we are embedded in underserved communities and communities of color that have traditionally not participated in the sport before, either because of the prohibitive cost or lack of access to facilities and outreach. What we have become is a bridge that introduces this wonderful sport to girls who didn’t have access and who really had only watched it on TV. Second is that we combine figure skating with rigorous academic support and leadership development. We’ve created a unique and effective model that helps girls grow physically, emotionally and academically. So, education, in the broadest sense, is at the heart of our work, which began more than 20 years ago in East Harlem.