As I sat watching the kids from Genesis School play tennis outside in extreme heat this summer, the tears started rolling down my cheeks. Yikes, I thought, wiping them away as quickly as I can so the kids don’t see.
Why was I crying? After all, I’ve worked at this urban school for high-risk youth for almost five years now, and I’ve seen just about every up and down you can imagine.
But nothing prepared me, I suppose, for the joy I felt at this moment, watching these players from Genesis out there on the court. How far they had come in just two short months, I thought.
I suppose I should back up a bit. The children at Genesis School, K-8, on average have experienced four major incidents of trauma in their young lives already. Many are homeless, have special needs, and come from challenging family situations.
So here we are in the inner city, doing our best every day with dedicated teachers and therapists and strong leadership to help these children so they have a chance to succeed in high school and beyond. They are high risk, which means they are at a high risk of not finishing high school, based on their situations.
Then on the flip side, there’s this massive United States Tennis Association Foundation in New York, where folks like Andre Agassi and the Williams sisters play in charity tournaments, and along with other big donors, they all raise million of dollars. That money is funneled out to places like Genesis so we can offer a tennis and education program that literally changes the lives of young people and gives them a chance to play a sport they normally would not be exposed to. The money, however, is never enough, and so now the Health Care Foundation has stepped up, as well as other private donors in Kansas City.
And I’m here to tell you that this program works. I’ve seen it, experienced it, and felt the hugs. And, since I’m a grant writer, I also have the paperwork, surveys and tennis performance sheets to back up our progress!
OK, so now you know who Genesis is, and that we have these great folks funding our tennis and education program. But what do we really do?
Every child at Genesis is introduced to the game of tennis by our tennis coach. Others play on teams metrowide. Some do intramurals, others do summer tennis camp. They learn to write essays about what Arthur Ashe stood for, and they complete a curriculum where they do everything from geometry lessons on court to trying new healthy fruits and vegetables! The kids got new shoes and shirts this summer, and the list goes on.
And what would their summer have been like if it weren’t for this tennis program?
Most told me that they would have sat home every day this summer behind locked doors because their moms say it’s not safe to go outside, and the moms have to leave and go to work every day.
One boy I picked up for tennis said, “Miss Ann, I’ve been looking forward to this day my entire life.” Granted, he’s only 12 years old.
So, the tears rolled down my face, because I knew the boys I’m watching play had never even seen a tennis court in their life, and that, a few months ago, they were shaking, scared to walk out onto one. But today, they are in a safe place, with folks who care about them, who won’t let them slip through the cracks. Their moms are at work, happy to know their children are soaring! They are eating healthy food, getting sunshine, laughing and making friends.
A man who is an engineer in town came to Genesis recently, and said it only “takes one thing to get a kid out of this box.” For him, it was a teacher. For these kids, it’s going to be tennis.
This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.