We’re rewarded this week with a friendly reminder of why we continue to serve, give back, and dedicate our time each Saturday from upstate native and first-year Tompkins volunteer, Bruce Thongsack. Though, from his answers, you’d think he’s been involved with the program for more than a couple of weeks!

His enthusiasm and passion out there on the courts is genuinely felt through his voice and, more often than not, accompanied with a smile. We catch up with Bruce about how he was introduced to tennis, why he continues to play, and what lead him to be involved with KCTL today.

What (or who) influenced you to pick up tennis?

My brother and I grew up obsessed with sports. We watched them all and played what we could. One day, I found myself watching a new game on TV. It was a tennis match between John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. WHAT. IS. THIS!?!? Who is this intense American guy? Who is this European dude with the poise and precision? (And why do the announcers keep talking about love? GROSS!) I was fascinated. Soon after, I became involved with a community program similar to KCTL and picked up my first racquet.

Out of all the volunteering opportunities in New York, why did you choose KCTL?

I love tennis and I could never turn down the opportunity to work with the greatest, most endlessly amusing young tennis fanatics in New York. For all intents and purposes, I was one of these children. I was lucky enough to be involved with a program like KCTL and it expanded my worldview far beyond the confines of my small Upstate New York hometown.

What made you want to give back to your community?

I come from an immigrant family that received kindness from our adopted community, so I feel a strong obligation to pay it forward. My social-justice-tiger parents were leaders in a number of communities--from our Buddhist temple to the greater Laotian diaspora. They did not tolerate ignorance or myopia and instilled in us the belief that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

If there was only one piece of advice you would like to give the kids, what would it be?

I'll out-silly all you honey badgers! Just kidding. Sort of. The real answer is the same thing I repeat a hundred times every Saturday afternoon: Keep working--you've got this, baby! Effort and confidence are transformative; I see it happen every week.

Who's your favorite tennis player? Why?

This is an impossible question for me. I could go on for days. So, I'll give you three. First, there's the legend Althea Gibson. She was a trailblazer who broke barriers, won Grand Slams, and then went on to excel in professional golf AFTER her tennis career. When Ms. Gibson won her first Wimbledon in 1958, the trophy was presented to her by Queen Elizabeth. Not too shabby for a girl from Harlem. Then there's Michael Chang, winner of the 1989 French Open and the youngest men's Grand Slam champion in history. He was 17! It would be blasphemous of me to omit the guy who basically convinced my parents to let my brother and me play organized sports. Finally, there is Serena Williams, the reigning queen of tennis. It's been amazing to watch her emerge from her sister's shadow and become the dominant force in the game. Her talent is undeniable--she is truly awe-inspiring. Bonus favorites: John McEnroe (loved his ferociousness); Andre Agassi (In the 1990 French Open final, he wore a wig!)