When asked to describe a word that he associates with his work with Up2Us Sports and America SCORES, Coach Gari Harvey paused for a moment before responding, “inspiring.” Gari further elaborated, “Inspire was the first thing that popped into my head when you asked me that because when I come in here I try and inspire the kids to be better than they were yesterday.” It’s just another busy afternoon for Gari; casually mentioning a number of tasks that are piling up for him at his coaching site, he has decided to multi-task this afternoon by sharing his story with Up2Us Sports during his commute.
Born and raised in Harlem, New York, Gari described himself as a curious kid with a vivid imagination and a constant desire to explore. Despite his desire to explore, Coach Gari felt limited by his surroundings and often turned to jokes and poetry as a form of escapism. After high school, he decided to enroll in college, but struggled mightily and quickly dropped out. His admitted inability to handle his newfound autonomy contributed to his struggles. “I flunked out of college because I didn’t know how to manage myself properly,” recalled Gari.
Upon returning home to New York at age 19, Gari began working at Old Navy, but quickly realized this was not where he wanted to be long-term and formulated a plan to join the military a few months later. After completing training in Georgia and Alabama, Gari found himself stationed in Germany for the next four years serving as an ammunition supply specialist before serving a fifth year back at home in the United States. Gari found comfort in the structure provided by the military lifestyle, but soon found himself wanting to become more self-sufficient and write a new chapter in his professional life.
Following his retirement from active service, Gari became heavily involved in advocacy for injured veterans for five years before deciding to go back to school with the help of the post-9/11 GI Bill. While pursuing a Political Science degree, Gari also interned with the New York Stock Exchange and had a brief stint with Bank of America before deciding that his heart wasn’t in finance. Gari quickly realized that he wanted to pursue a career in service and began to work for a nonprofit called The Mission Continues, that focuses on providing leadership positions in the community for veterans. During his tenure with The Mission Continues, Gari helped set up a mentoring program through AmeriCorps.
Following a year of service with The Mission Continues, Gari took a brief sabbatical to travel and broaden his horizons. When he returned, he felt motivated to find a position with purpose. Shortly after settling back in the United States, Gari stumbled across a social media post shared by one of his Mission Continues colleagues. He was working as a coach with Up2Us Sports through a program that hired military veterans as youth sports coaches. Intrigued, Gari did some research and liked what he saw. As a person with a constant desire to give back and inspire, Gari was a perfect match for Up2Us Sports’ Operation Coach program. Despite lacking formal knowledge about the game of soccer and having no previous coaching experience, Gari committed to becoming the program coordinator for America SCORES, a sports-based youth development program centered around soccer and poetry.
Although he had some initial trepidation about working in a sport he knew nothing about, Gari understood the transformative opportunity that was in front of him. He decided early on to focus his efforts on really building a connection with the kids and has always gone the extra mile to get to know them. Through this approach, he has quickly developed a culture that values open dialogue, participation, and understanding. These efforts have really paid off; they ended the fall season with a total of 17 students, which grew from just two when Gari started.
Although some aspects of his military training (such as his ability to delegate) have been helpful in his new coaching venture, Gari admits that not everything translates. “The military, it’s not the easiest place to be. And people say, ‘okay, since you got disciplined in the military you should be able to discipline these kids,’ and I tell people, hey, it’s a totally different type of discipline,” explained Gari. “The thing that I learned in the military that helps me with this is the ability to keep moving forward.” Positive reinforcement is the foundation for his coaching style and helping the youth reach their full potential is what is at the root of his motivation. Though he seems genuinely grateful for the discipline imparted on him by the military, Gari seems even more thankful to have the opportunity to exercise compassion and place an emphasis on kids having fun and feeling important.