Norwalk Grassroots Tennis & Education (NGTE) is an organization that is getting kids to succeed in school and in life by having them play tennis. That makes NGTE exactly the kind of organization Kars4Kids likes to help. To clarify: NGTE is doing something creative with kids from low-income communities, something unique, and its unusual program has been proven to ensure graduation from high school!
We think that’s amazing, and worthy of recognition and assistance. Which is why we gave them a small grant. We spoke to NGTE Senior Director of Tennis David Kimani, to learn more about how tennis can help kids get an education, and get ahead.
Kars4Kids: With a 100% high school graduation rate, it’s clear that NGTE has the winning formula. What are you doing right?
David Kimani: We focus first on providing a safe and nurturing place for our kids to go and then work on building trusting relationships. Those two ingredients are the foundation on which we can work with our kids to provide comprehensive resources and support to help them understand, identify, and believe in the strengths and power they have within themselves to build a foundation for their own success. Through tennis training and comprehensive education support, we work in partnership with our kids to help them build the skills, develop the tools, and find the inspiration and power within themselves to become self-sufficient leaders of their lives and their community.
Kars4Kids: Your program uses tennis to build confidence, leadership, and camaraderie. Why tennis? Could you have substituted any other sport and had the same results?
David Kimani: We know that participation in sports and fitness in general, but also tennis specifically, have been shown to improve children’s physical, mental and social-emotional health; empower and build self-confidence; and foster healthy decision-making and behaviors. Tennis is both an individual and team sport; requires discipline, athleticism and resilience; and cultivates+ proper etiquette, professionalism and respect. It is also a sport that can be played over a lifetime, opening doors of opportunity all along the way.
Kars4Kids: Kids enrolled in NGTE can participate in the USTA Arthur Ashe Essay and Art Contest, which incorporates themes from the life of Arthur Ashe. What can kids learn from the life story of Arthur Ashe?
David Kimani: Arthur Ashe embodies all that we stand for as an organization. As one of the founders of the NJTL Network, his vision was to bring in kids to the sport of tennis who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity, and then engage them, teach them, and help them build their strength of character and life skills. Our kids learn from his incredible life story the importance of integrity; of education and learning; of giving back and helping others; and of perseverance and grace.
Kars4Kids: How do you find your high school age volunteer tutors? Do they receive some kind of credit for their work with the youth you serve?
David Kimani: Our high school volunteers are incredible. They help out both on the court coaching the kids, and off the court tutoring in the youth center. Many come to us through their school tennis teams, and many do receive community service credit. However, most continue to come back after their required hours are fulfilled because they have become connected to our kids. We are so grateful for their support.
Kars4Kids: You have summer camps designed to prevent learning loss, which occurs during the long school break in summer. Tell us about a typical camp day. How do you balance fun with learning to keep kids engaged?
David Kimani: Our Summer Education & Enrichment Camp is a critical component of our programming. This summer over 40 kids in elementary and middle school arrive at the youth center, have breakfast and then head to their classrooms for their first session of the day. We have four groups of kids who rotate between math, reading, and science classes, in addition to time on the tennis court, enrichment activities, and a field trip one day each week. We hire certified teachers who develop curriculum specifically designed to target core academic skills through fun and engaging activities and projects. In addition, this summer we are piloting a new curriculum with our middle school student athletes that includes taking them off site to volunteer in the community.
Kars4Kids: How do children find your organization? Are they from a specific demographic?
David Kimani: Kids come to Grassroots through word of mouth. We have many siblings and multiple family members in the program. We serve low-income families and kids who don’t have other places or programs to go to. Our youth center is located in the heart of South Norwalk, on property adjacent to Norwalk Housing Authority’s Roodner Court and three other public housing sites, and within the dense clustering of Section-8 and low-income housing in the area.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for Norwalk Grassroots Tennis & Education?
David Kimani: Thanks to support from Kars4Kids and others, Grassroots continues to build and strengthen our programming to better meet the needs of our kids. Instead of becoming paralyzed by the unending challenges our kids and their families face that are outside our ability to solve (hunger, family life, instability, housing, violence, poverty, racism and systemic inequity, etc.), we are focusing on the gifts of each child and working to help them see those gifts, figure out how to bring them out and build on their strengths to become the leaders we know they are. If we can help them find and develop the tools within, then they can navigate whatever life brings them along their journey to success.