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FTA Reaches Out to Hispanic Population

August 21, 2008 09:01 PM

This summer the Florence Tennis Association pioneered a new approach to outreach and inclusion with Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors), a three-week day camp designed to introduce Hispanic children between the ages of 4 and 16 to the game of tennis. This innovative program, was conducted on a pro bono basis at Timrod Park using QuickStart techniques. Funding was provided by the FTA and several of its local business sponsors with help from USTA and USTA Southern diversity grants. Abriendo Puertas was highly successful and, as a result, the FTA is already making plans for its 2009 summer program.

To recruit participants, the FTA worked with area churches and social service organizations, enlisted the help of the Florence Police Department in distributing posters and fliers, and used a bilingual media campaign to get the word out about the program. In addition, two Saturday morning introductory sessions were held in May to engage Hispanic families and sign up program participants for the summer camp.

The FTA Executive Committee decided to initiate Abriendo Puertas because, even though the Florence area’s Hispanic population is growing rapidly, virtually no Hispanic players were to be seen on the local courts. That is certain to change now because the forty youngsters who took part in the program had a wonderful time and most of them have already signed up for fall Kids Team Tennis or the Pee Dee Junior Tennis League. 

Surprisingly, Abriendo Puertas also produced a new wave of adult players. When the teaching staff noticed that many of the kid’s parents were coming to the daily training sessions wearing tennis shoes, they invited them to give the sport a try. Space was soon set aside for adult lessons, which began with QuickStart equipment and quickly moved on to full court tennis. By the end of the third week, eighteen adults had tried the game, and ten had become enthusiasts. As a result, the FTA is planning a series of evening adult clinics to get them ready for their first league season.

The teaching pro for Abriendo Puertas was Esteban Teran, a USPTR professional, who is a native of Ecuador and a junior at Coker College, where he plays on the school’s tennis team. On-court assistance came from FTA volunteers and a number of area high school players. Rose Manelli, one of the FTA’s three Spanish speaking Executive Committee members, served as Program Coordinator. Outside support was provided by Graham Cox and Michelle Campanella from the USTA SC staff, who offered solid advice and sent prizes for games, and by Natalia Martinez from USTA Southern, who helped with planning and translation and brought her considerable expertise to the courts for several days during week two. Although most of the kids spoke excellent English, some of their parents were less fluent, and having a bilingual staff greatly simplified day-to-day coordination. It also enhanced the social side of the program (along with pizza and watermelon) and helped cement the friendships that make tennis so enjoyable.

The FTA, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that is committed to growing the game of tennis and making it accessible to everyone, has a long history of minority-oriented programs. For a number of years it has provided introductory clinics for largely minority groups through the Boys and Girls Club, and, last year in coordination with Africa-American community leaders, it initiated the Genesis tennis program, which serves teenagers who need additional community support. This summer’s programs included Abriendo Puertas, Genesis, and Summer Aces, a new program for at-risk children—a total of eight weeks of free on-court instruction and fun for over two hundred kids. In addition to these targeted programs, the FTA conducts and supports a wide variety of junior tournaments and youth activities for Pee Dee area children and adolescents. The Association’s ability to partner with other community organizations and its ongoing youth programs are among the primary reasons it was named South Carolina CTA of the Year in 2004 and 2007 and national CTA of the Year in 2007.