Dennis Kennedy’s son continues nonprofit started by his father
Published in the July 4 – July 17, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life
Weeks after Dennis Kennedy died, his son, Matt Kennedy, found a video on the former Morgan Hill mayor’s cell phone taken while at the Aquatics Center. It recorded a 360-degree view of families and kids swimming and enjoying the center. The video made Matt cry, remembering how loving and caring his dad was.
In the mid-1990s while serving on the Morgan Hill City Council, Dennis pushed his dream to build not just a public swimming pool but create a first-class aquatics center that would attract families as well as competitive swimmers. In December 2015, while ill from cancer, the former mayor felt the glow of love from family and friends as the site on Condit Road that he envisioned 20 years before was renamed the Morgan Hill Dennis Kennedy Aquatics Center.
Another of Kennedy’s dreams was to make sure children in low-income families in South Valley could have the opportunity to enjoy splashing in the center’s pools and also develop their swimming skills. He helped found the nonprofit Morgan Hill Aquatic Foundation to raise funds that helps pay for youngsters’ swimming lessons during the summer months.
Dennis believed pool safety and physical health should be not just for the privileged but for all people regardless of their financial situation, said Matt, a member of the foundation’s board.
“I remember dad expressing to me that children need to be supported,” he said. “And since not all families have the financial means we need to help them, that is our service to do.”
Swimming lessons are provided at the Aquatics Center by trained instructors. The city receives information from the Morgan Hill Unified School about which students qualify for financial assistance. The city then offers to subsidize 50 percent of the cost of swim lessons to these children. The Aquatic Foundation covers the other half.
“I am personally involved in the Aquatic Foundation because my dad really lit up with love whenever we talked about helping children and specifically at the Aquatics Center,” Matt said.
Dennis served on the Aquatic Foundation board along with current members Tim Thornton, Danean Smith and Brian Kennedy. To honor his dad’s memory and continue to support a cause that he really cared about, Matt joined the board in 2016.
“Dad saw a need and put his love and energy into helping kids, I want to keep that going for him and for the kids,” he said.
The mission of the Aquatic Foundation is to support the aquatic programs and facility, Thornton said. It partners with the city to supplement the needs for on-going and capital improvements necessary to improve the programs and facilities in our community.
“The foundation was begun prior to the construction of the Aquatics Center in 2004, by a group of local community/business members who had the foresight to help support that major project,” he said. “Mayor Dennis Kennedy was instrumental in providing our community with the building of the Aquatics Center that bears his name.”
The Morgan Hill Aquatic Foundation provides a tax-deductible vehicle through which community members can contribute to programs at the center. During the summer, as many as 1,000 people daily use the facility. In addition, many special activities are offered and many continue on a year-round basis.
Funds provided by the foundation are used in a variety of ways. Three years ago, it joined the city and the Morgan Hill/Santa Clara Swim Club and shared the $30,000 necessary to install a state-of-the-art score board at the Aquatic Center, he said.
“This allowed large regional swim meets to be hosted at the center,” he said. “This provides the city with many tax benefits from those attending who dine and use the hotels during the events.”
The foundation’s biggest focus in the past three years has been partnering with the city to provide swimming lessons to children whose families are unable to afford them. So far, the foundation has funded lessons for nearly 200 children.
Thornton’s involvement in volunteering with swimming in Morgan Hill began with the opening of the first public pool in 1962 at Live Oak High School (now Britton Middle School). The Morgan Hill Swim Club was started in the summer of 1962 and is flourishing better than ever today, he said.
“At Live Oak, we provided ‘required’ swimming lessons for every high school student which included a basic skills test in order to graduate,” he said.
About 1985, Thornton joined with Lynn Vidally, local resident and Olympic swimming champion, to fill the need for a Masters Swimming program for adults, which continues today.
“I coached the Live Oak springboard divers for several years in the mid-1980s,” he said. “In 2007, I was invited to join the Aquatic Foundation and continue as a board member. The availability of community aquatic programs and facilities has been my passion since the early ‘60s.”
The foundation’s mission to “water proof” every child in our community is a lofty one, but nothing is more important than the safety of children, he said. The foundation board members Danean Smith, President; Brian Kennedy, Treasurer; and Matt Kennedy, Secretary; and Thornton have worked to make this happen. The board is now looking for two residents to volunteer on the board. Anyone interested can contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org
In honor of Mayor Kennedy, Matt asks the community for their continued support for the summer water safety/swimming program for children.
“We need continued donations to keep going, both to the Dennis Kennedy Memorial Fund to help kids get swim lessons and for the other support we offer to the Aquatic Center,” he said.