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#IServeBecause

Highlights from Serving Courtside, Our Sixth Annual Fundraiser

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Highlights from Serving Courtside, Our Sixth Annual Fundraiser

Last Wednesday, September 9, Kings County Tennis League held its Sixth Annual Fundraiser at M1-5 Lounge in TriBeCa.

Entitled "Serving Courtside," the celebration was a fantastic night out in support of our goals to expand, extend, and enrich youth development and community building through tennis.

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Serving_Courtside_2015

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Marcy_Tennis-31

To complement our fundamental operations--bringing tennis to children right where they live--Serving Courtside brought tennis to the masses in a centrally located space. Complete with synthetic grass, portable tennis nets, racquets, tennis balls everywhere, and a Serena Williams cardboard cutout, Serving Courtside presented the ultimate tennis party experience to more than 200 guests.

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Marcy_Tennis-88

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Marcy_Tennis-118

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Robert-Cornegy-2015-Fundraiser

The fundraiser was immensely successful for the organization. We can't say thank you enough to everyone who joined our celebration.

We're extremely grateful for our beverage sponsors, Sixpoint, Flatiron Wines & Spirits, and Purity.Organic, as well as for our synthetic grass sponsor, SYNLawn New York. We'd also like to thank our raffle donors, whose names and generous prize contributions are detailed on the official event page.

View the event highlights on Facebook.

Peruse the event program to learn more.

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#IServeBecause: Efi da Silva's Story

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#IServeBecause: Efi da Silva's Story

For three seasons, Lafayette Gardens Volunteer Efi da Silva has been a valuable role model to KCTL kids. Today, Efi shares her thoughts on teaching children and her observations of "growth on all fronts" program-wide. Unlike our past #IServeBecause interviewees, Efi did not come to KCTL as a tennis player. Her lack of experience with the sport, though, did not undermine her impact as a volunteer, but enriched it as she learned something new alongside the students.

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2014_Efi_da_Silva

How and when did you learn about KCTL?

I heard about KCTL through my old roommate. (Hi, Tiffany!) She had volunteered the previous year and convinced me that I didn't need tennis experience to participate.

What inspired you to volunteer?

When I was younger I participated in free programming that helped me gain exposure to areas that I otherwise would not have had an opportunity to partake in. After learning about KCTL and the opportunity it provides to kids in Bed-Stuy, it made sense that I become a volunteer.

What, if any, prior experience did you have with tennis and/or with children?

I had taught kids before, but since I had no tennis background, my first year I learned alongside the kids and guided them as I picked things up.

What can you identify as the most significant positive change(s) to KCTL since you began volunteering?

Since I started volunteering two years ago, the most positive change has been growth on all fronts: the number of kids, the number of volunteers, the number of sites. But then there's also the refined and amplified curriculum. You can see the kids improving in tennis and learning skills on the court that they can take with them to school, home, or wherever they may find themselves.

As we near the end of the season, what's the most important lesson you want the LG students to take away from the program this year?

LG kids are awesome and I see this seed in them already, but I'd like them to remember to not let wins and losses on and off court define or discourage them but instead to keep persistent at whatever goal they're working towards.

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#IServeBecause: Renata Thakurdyal's Story

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#IServeBecause: Renata Thakurdyal's Story

This week, we catch up with Renata Thakurdyal, Tompkins Site Coordinator. A first-generation American born in Queens to Guyanese parents, Renata started playing tennis as a young girl in her own backyard. As she grew up, so did her love for the game. Renata describes tennis as more than just a sport. It brought her motivation, enjoyment, and friendship. And now she hopes to bring those same opportunities every Saturday to KCTL.

When did you pick up tennis and why do you continue to play?

I started playing tennis at the age of 12 in my middle school backyard where there were five tennis courts. The pull for me was the challenge of a new sport under the boiling sun with awesome new friends. Friendship was a major motivational factor for playing tennis--and wanting to get better. I played every chance I had during the school year and in the summers for no less than seven hours a day, for many years. I still continue to play because I love to be active and tennis is in my blood, swinging the racquet feels great. Competition is fun, but it is more the body in motion that appeals to me.

When did you learn about KCTL and what motivated you to volunteer?

I learned about KCTL from a flyer in a coffee/ice cream shop where I was working part-time during the summer of 2014. It was lovely to find a program where I could play tennis with the youth and be a positive influence for them. I have been a literacy educator for many years and used to help with the younger students when I played tennis in high school. I thought this was a great way to be in touch with the sport even more. Plus, I love grassroots initiatives for the youth.

What's been your most memorable & best experience with KCTL so far?

My most memorable moment with KCTL was the Jamboree of 2014; it got rained out, but we held the ceremony anyway. It was magical to see the coaches from all the sites and so many students come out! One of the participants from Tompkins came running up to me as I was leaving and gave me an extra hug, which was so nice. I knew I definitely wanted to come back for the next season and that Jamboree made the desire concrete. I got to see many of those students from Tompkins again this year which is special.

If you could give one piece of advice to the kids, what would it be?

Critical advice for all my students: Know your resources. Where you can go to access opportunities and get the information you need. We live in a city brimming with potential and few students gain access because they do not adequately research the possibilities, the best of these are not largely advertised. Knowing your resources puts you in a position to take advantage of opportunities that no one else can tell you about. Listen with an open mind and be tolerant, you will learn.

If there was one professional tennis player you could play doubles with, who would it be and why?

It'd be awesome to play doubles with Gaël Sébastien Monfils. I love that he is francophone and seems to have a fun personality. He is a dynamic tennis player. I remember watching him play when I was younger and being thrilled.

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#IServeBecause: Deborah Kalloo's Story

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#IServeBecause: Deborah Kalloo's Story

Volunteer Deborah Kalloo has enjoyed an inspirational first summer with Kings County Tennis League. As a teacher and recreational tennis player outside of the Sumner Tennis Club court, she's grateful to have found an opportunity that combines her passions. Deborah enlightens us with her personal account of being a role model for children through the sport of tennis.

How did you learn about KCTL?

I was having coffee in a cafe on Fulton Street, where one of your flyers caught my eye. I registered almost immediately thereafter, completed group training with Meredith, and here I am today.

What motivated you to join our program?

My motivation primarily came from my love of tennis. I was excited by the opportunity to teach tennis, learn about teaching tennis, and to meet people to who also love tennis.

Can you tell us about your prior tennis experience?

I played team tennis in high school, and I was fortunate enough pretty impressive and positive seniors as my coaches and role models. When I came to New York, I took a few lessons at Prospect Park Tennis Center to brush up on my skills. I've since upgraded by approach to tennis.

How has your experience working with kids as a teacher informed your role as a volunteer at Sumner?

As a high school Math and Computer Science teacher, I utilize some of the same strategies with the students at Sumner. Specifically, I incorporate the listening and rewards strategies I've developed in the classroom. I also believe that as a teacher it is important to impart values for my students, so I was happy to see that KCTL integrates this aspect into its curriculum. We have the opportunity to teach values like good sportsmanship, environmental responsibility, and taking care of our property.

What has been the best or most inspirational part of volunteering at Sumner?

I love the people: the coaches, the volunteers' spirit, and the kids' drive to keep trying and not give up. Gigi, a seven-year-old student at Sumner said it best at the end of class recently: "Everyone tried their best, so everyone is a winner."

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#IServeBecause: Tiffany Oliver's Story

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#IServeBecause: Tiffany Oliver's Story

The establishment of Jackie Robinson Tennis Club is one of our proudest accomplishments this year. On the tennis courts beside the Brevoort Houses at Jackie Robinson Park, we're providing new opportunities for children and, as a result, providing something new for families.

Among those families is a woman named Tiffany Oliver, the devoted mother of two Jackie Robinson students, Aminah and Amaia, who are 11 and eight years old, respectively.

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Tiffany-Oliver

Tiffany is pictured here with her two daughters and their father, Jerry. Tiffany stands out as a parent who consistently supports her children from beyond the sidelines, and takes a vested interest in their tennis progress and personal development.

She was kind enough to enlighten us on her experiences with Jackie Robinson Tennis Club.

How did you and your daughters find out about Kings County Tennis League?

We saw flyers in the neighborhood before the season's start. We were immediately intrigued by the opportunity.

Prior to joining, had Aminah and Amaia ever played tennis before or did they know about tennis?

No, before joining KCTL, Aminah and Amaia had no experience playing tennis. However, they knew about the game and had always expressed an interest in playing because I played during my teenage years.

What have Amina and Amaia told you they like best the program?

Beyond playing tennis itself--they're most excited by the volunteers that they are working with. They're extremely helpful and friendly.

What do you personally like best about it?

I'm most pleased by everyone's positive attitudes. Everyone has been extraordinarily welcoming.

Do you think they will play again with us next summer?

Yes! I would love for the girls to participate again next year and in any other activities KCTL has available.

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#IServeBecause: Bryce Richards' Story

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#IServeBecause: Bryce Richards' Story

When Bryce Richards discovered KCTL two years ago, he already had plenty to bring to the court: nearly 20 years of tennis experience, high school team leadership experience, and a background in teaching the sport to children. Through his unique journey from Sumner Volunteer to Sumner Site Leader and, now, Lafayette Gardens Site Leader, Bryce's dedication has made a difference for KCTL--but he's always left room for reflection. Read on for some of Bryce's biggest takeaways from our youth tennis program.

How and when did you learn about KCTL, and what attracted you to the program?

I learned about the program in September 2013, right after I'd moved to New York. I'd just reconnected with a friend who invited me to join, so I volunteered at Sumner a couple times that fall. I loved the idea of bringing tennis directly into the housing projects. I'd never seen anything like that. I also had a lot of fun chatting with the kids; I'd forgotten how much fun it can be to work with kids.

What positive changes have you observed in the program over the years?

It's definitely become more organized. In 2013, I just showed up at Sumner and started hitting with a couple kids without any instructions or formal training. Last year--during which time I was Site Leader at Sumner--was far more organized, but a couple of things fell through. This year, Meredith's role as Director of Programming has made a huge difference. Case in point: the wonderful Davis Cup we just had.

What do you consider the highlight(s) of your experience with KCTL?

In early 2015, I took all the kids on a trip to the Google office where I work. I thought I was going to need to memorize all sorts of facts about the company that might bore the kids, but I should have known that a game room, unlimited snacks, and all the silly Google decorations would be more than enough entertainment on their own. I think the kids had a blast. The goal was for them to say to think, "Wow, this is cool, I'd like to work someplace like this when I grow up. So this is why school matters."

How and when did you begin playing tennis?

I've played tennis for as long as I can remember. My parents took me and my older sister out to the court to feed balls from us when we were three or four years old. Now, with an adult's perspective, I'm so grateful for how much patience and love they showed us by doing that. I really ought to thank them again.

How has playing tennis impacted you personally?

Tennis has been a part of every stage of my life. Growing up, I played "family tennis"--my mom and me vs. my sister and dad. I played in tournaments as I got older, was captain of the high school team, worked my first job teaching at a tennis camp, played club tennis in college, and met most of my friends through tennis. And continuing to today, KCTL is a big part of my life. That's one of many great things about tennis: it's a lifelong sport. My dad plays all the time, and he's pushing 70. I don't think the same can be said for a sport like rugby.

What do you want to see the students at Lafayette Gardens gain from playing tennis this summer?

I think KCTL will teach different things to different kids. I think some might learn a lot from the off-courts discussions, information that sticks with them later in life. I still remember some facts and life advice passed down from my mom or dad when I was very young, some of which are quite important! Other kids might benefit more from the tennis instruction, by picking up a sport that they can play for a long time. Learning to lose with dignity is an important life lesson--you do a lot of losing in tennis. This is what I think is great about KCTL. The program provides so many different positive things--formal mentoring in the off-court conversations, informal mentoring in the interaction with volunteers, tennis lessons, and just plain fun--that I think are bound to help these kids.

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#IServeBecause: Bruce Thongsack's Story

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#IServeBecause: Bruce Thongsack's Story

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!)

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#IServeBecause: Sheiliana's Story

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#IServeBecause: Sheiliana's Story

Seven-year-old Sheiliana is an energetic, talkative, and friendly student at Marcy Tennis Club. A natural storyteller with ample KCTL experience under her belt, Sheiliana was delighted to fill us in on her student experience. Her enthusiastic feedback is a heartwarming affirmation of the weekly program's positive effects.

How did you find out about the tennis program?

I was walking past the Marcy tennis court with my mom. I saw a lot of kids playing together and hitting tennis balls. I said to myself, "I want to be a part of that." So, I told my mom, "That looks like fun! I want to do that." My mom signed me up that day.

When was that? How long have you been playing tennis with KCTL?

I was five years old when I first came here, so this is my third summer playing tennis.

In which areas of tennis have you most improved?

I have gotten a lot better at hitting forehands and volleys. My footwork is better too; I am faster on the court.

What do you think you need to improve?

Backhands are very hard for me. I need to work on them.

Do you ever play tennis outside of our Saturday classes? Who do you play with?

Yes, I play tennis outside of class with my mom. We use the big court at Marcy when it is available. If it is not, we hit against the wall on the handball court.

So your mom is a tennis player, too? Will you bring her to Family Day?

Yes, but I was a tennis player first. I have been teaching her how to play. And, yes, I want to bring her to Family Day!

What is your favorite part about KCTL?

I get to meet new kids and make new friends. I have made so many new friends here! I also get to learn how to play tennis and I really like it. I want to play tennis for the rest of my life.

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#IServeBecause: Michele Gee’s Story

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#IServeBecause: Michele Gee’s Story

Hailing from Staten Island, Michele Gee is no stranger to the tennis court. At a very young age, Michele was introduced to the sport by her father, a self-taught tennis player. It soon became the family sport, as her brother would eventually play and compete as well. Being exposed to the game early on and playing throughout her life has lead to unique and unforgettable experiences for Michele, on and off the court.

As Jackie Robinson’s first site leader, she brings her experience, aptitude, and passion to the program. We recently sat down with Michele to talk about KCTL and the reasons why she continues to love the game.

What attracted you to KCTL specifically?

I was initially attracted to KCTL because I just missed being out on the tennis court. I've played tennis my entire life and coached for several years as well and I couldn't help but miss working with children and teaching a sport that had such an incredible impact on my life. But the more I learned about KCTL and its mission to bring tennis--which is still considered an elitist sport--to children in underserved communities, I knew it was something amazing. I also knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of.

In your opinion, what's different about KCTL than what you've experienced compared to other organizations?

The off-court mentorship portion is the major difference. While tennis is a huge component of this program, it is not the only component. Teaching children about manners, sportsmanship, personal values, and managing emotions is paramount when it comes to their development. I find that the children are just as engaged during the off-court discussions as they are during any of the super fun tennis games that we play such as Breakout and Alligator.

How did tennis influence you during your childhood?

Tennis had a huge influence on my childhood and, ultimately, my life. My father, a South Carolina native who was raised in a poverty-stricken home, taught himself to play at the age of 10. He didn't realize it, but the choice he made to pick up a racquet would change his life and the lives of his children that would be born decades later. He taught my brother and I to play and, before we knew it, we were practicing every day and traveling to compete in tournaments every week. Tennis gave me an opportunity to travel to places I never thought I could go and to meet the most interesting people. It gave me confidence and taught me the value of hard work. Tennis allowed me to attend and graduate from Howard University on a full athletic scholarship. More importantly, tennis has given me the opportunity to work and mentor children while passing along all the wisdom and lessons that this great sport has taught me.

What's the absolute one thing that you want the kids to take away this summer?

The notion that they can achieve anything. When a child who has been struggling to hit a forehand finally hits a perfect shot over the net, there is no greater feeling. I watch as their face lights up and I feel a sense of joy because that child now knows that no matter how many times they failed at hitting a forehand in the past, success is possible. And success breeds confidence. I want the students to be confident in their ability to persevere no matter how difficult the task.

If you could choose to meet one tennis player throughout history, who would it be and why?

I would meet Althea Gibson. I'd ask her how she was able to rise from the destitute Harlem neighborhood where she was raised to center court at Wimbledon. I'd ask her how she survived the terrible racism that she had to endure with such grace and dignity. And lastly, I would want to thank her for paving the way for players like Serena Williams and Lori McNeil, and even a young African-American girl from Staten Island, like myself.

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#IServeBecause: Gloria Dorsey's Story

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#IServeBecause: Gloria Dorsey's Story

Gloria Dorsey is the proud and supportive mother of nine-year-old Julius Dorsey, a student at KCTL’s Lafayette Gardens Tennis Club. KCTL parents like Gloria are a vital component of our program's mission to empower Brooklyn families and build community.

Gloria is one of several KCTL parents/guardians who comprise the KCTLPA (Kings County Tennis League Parents Association), a committee that aims to increase student enrollment, achieve student retention, and maintain a parent support system.

We recently spoke with Gloria to feature a parent's perspective in the #IServeBecause series. As you’ll learn below, she and her son are longstanding, committed KCTL participants.

How long has your son, Julius, been a student with Kings County Tennis League?

Julius has been playing with KCTL since 2012, which makes four years including the 2015 season.

How did you and Julius learn about the program?

A teacher at Julius’ former school—PS 270—passed along a flyer to us in the spring of 2012. We were delighted to learn about the opportunity.

Prior to joining, did your son play tennis (or know about tennis)?

No. Julius had never played tennis before, but he knew about the game from watching tennis tournaments with me on television.

Based on what Julius has told you, what does he like most about KCTL?

Above all, Julius enjoys meeting other kids and making new friends. He likes learning a new sport, too. The volunteers are very nice and friendly, and he enjoys their lessons and group discussions.

What do you like most about it?

It’s a free opportunity for my son to learn something new! I love watching him learn how to play the game on Saturday afternoons. Meanwhile, I’m able to relax in the park and meet other parents in the community with similar interests as me. I also like how nice the volunteers have proven to be working with my son and the other children.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience?

I think KCTL is helping our kids to develop their skills physically, mentally, and morally. I never had the opportunity as a child to learn how to play tennis, so I'm very happy that KCTL is giving our son the chance to learn how to play this type of sport. My family has experienced many good things as a result of this program.

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#IServeBecause: Omar Bailey's Story

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#IServeBecause: Omar Bailey's Story

Meet Omar Bailey: a new volunteer at Kings County Tennis League's Marcy site. A Brooklynite by way of Florida in his early 30s, Omar is a self-described tennis fanatic who discovered the sport only a few years ago. Having grown up with almost no exposure to tennis, Omar is ecstatic to share his newly found passion with children who--if not for individuals like himself--would otherwise miss out on the game's enormous benefits.

What sports did you and your friends/peers play as children?

Just basketball, baseball, and football. Not tennis.

So, what, if anything, did you know about tennis as a child?

I knew of Serena and Venus Williams, but I didn't know much about the game. I only watched from time to time if my father happened to be watching, which was not often.

How and when did you discover tennis?

Three years ago, my girlfriend, Allison, introduced me to the sport. We went to the US Open together, where I witnessed firsthand how powerful the tennis pros are. I fell in love with the game immediately.

How did tennis become a passion following that introduction?

Just a few days after the US Open, Allison and I bought tennis racquets to play ourselves and I really enjoyed it. From there, I enrolled in lessons, began watching professional matches religiously (I even subscribed to the Tennis Channel!), and became obsessed with everything tennis. With lots of practice, I've advanced my NTRP rating to a respectable 3.5. I play in two different local tennis leagues and actually won the final tournament in one of them this past winter. I'm excited about improving my game every time I play.

What personal benefits have you experienced as a result of playing the sport?

The mental battle of tennis is the aspect that has helped me the most. I'm already a pretty patient guy, but playing tennis--playing for yourself--really makes you focus and think step-by-step about what you want and need to accomplish. The other benefit is the exercise. Tennis is a great, enjoyable way to work out and stay in shape. I would prefer to play tennis for two hours than run on a treadmill any day.

How has your experience as a volunteer at Marcy been so far?

It's been great! The kids are awesome and I can see that they are enjoying their new surroundings and playing tennis. I was very impressed with one of our recent off-court discussions about anger management. The kids were so open to sharing their feelings and thoughts and articulated themselves so well. That was sort of my "aha moment." It became clear to me what we are trying to accomplish and teach the kids other than just playing tennis.

How have the absence of tennis in your childhood and your subsequent discovery of the game influenced your role as a volunteer/mentor at KCTL?

I grew up in South Florida amongst tennis courts and the USTA facilities where all the top players would train--but I had no clue that I was within arms reach of the sport. I would not want a child to miss out on tennis if I knew they would enjoy it. The nice thing about tennis is that it does not matter how tall, fast, or strong you are, although those things can be helpful. You just have to show up and be willing to listen, learn, and have fun.

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In the Spirit of Our Fundraiser, Serving Courtside, Tell Us Why You Serve!

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In the Spirit of Our Fundraiser, Serving Courtside, Tell Us Why You Serve!

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Invitations have arrived! Serving Courtside, Kings County Tennis League's Sixth Annual Fundraiser, was officially released to the public yesterday, June 24. It's going to be held on Wednesday, September 9 at M1-5 Lounge in TriBeCa. We're excited to make this the biggest, most wonderful party yet, and we're calling on you to play a part in this victory for KCTL.

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KCTL-Serving-Courtside-Flyer-2015

Just like the event's name implies, our Annual Fundraiser is an opportunity for all of KCTL's supporters to gather together to serve--and celebrate--the program off the tennis court. If you're KCTL supporter in any capacity--parent, player, volunteer, friend or acquaintance--show off your experience with the program using #IServeBecause on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

New to KCTL, or have yet to get involved directly? Don't worry; you're not excluded from the fun. You can still check out all the posts tagged #IServeBecause to live vicariously through their authors. :)

Aside from our #IServeBecause social campaign, be sure to come back here, to our blog, for a special #IServeBecause series featuring a new KCTL supporter each week. You'll be able to learn about how our tennis-mentorship program positively impacts everyone involved at the individual level.

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