WEST HARTFORD — Growing up in West Hartford, David Cohen could always be found playing sports, whether that be through town leagues or in the streets with his friends.

“I was a very active athlete and had a lot of success,” Cohen said. “That was a passion of mine. That’s what I did. I was out on the street with my pals kicking balls and playing hockey…until my mom said it was time to get inside and come in for dinner.”

Cohen, who now lives in Massachusetts, realizes he never lacked the equipment to play sports while he was attending school at Bugbee Elementary School, King Philip Middle School, Hall High School and Avon Old Farms.

“I always had access to whatever I needed,” Cohen said. “It got me wondering. We always had three or four uniforms. We had new stuff everywhere. We had plenty. What do we do with all that stuff?”

It wasn’t until after a career that saw Cohen work for Sumner Redstone that included helping to open multiplex cinemas in other countries that the West Hartford native found a way to implement sports back into his work life.

First, he started Playing It Forward, a nonprofit that works to get sports equipment into the hands of children who need it. The nonprofit has reached children in over 20 countries.

“The simple mission was providing sports equipment to underserved kids around the world,” Cohen said. “I was utilizing my connections to connect the dots of excess equipment to kids in need.”

The nonprofit still functions, but over the last 10 years Cohen has turned his focus to Doc Wayne Youth Services, a Boston-based nonprofit. He became the organization’s first chief executive officer and works to provide mental health services to children through sports.

Doc Wayne, Cohen said, aims to help children who might not benefit from traditional services by using sports as the connector.

“We use [sports] as the vehicle to connect with kids,” Cohen said. “Sports gets kids in. It reduces stigmas and breaks down cultural barriers. It’s a softer entry than going into an office. We try to make those sessions look more like a gym class than a clinical session.”

The nonprofit runs its own programs, but also trains adults at other organizations. Currently, the nonprofit has been working with the Hartford-based Village for Families and Children in a program funded by ESPN.

Cohen said he’s thrilled that the partnership has him returning to his roots and to the part of the state his family still calls home.

“I was so excited about this possibility,” Cohen said. “It was a donor of ours that put us in touch with the Village. I drove by the Village every time I went to see the Whalers play. For me to go there and to actually have a part in something that may be helping some of these kids and their families…I was so excited about that.”

Cohen said that the COVID-19 pandemic has created …….


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