Donor Spotlight: Chris and Courtney Combe

August 5, 2015 10:14 AM

By Ashley Marshall,

Philanthropists and community volunteers Chris and Courtney Combe have been attending the US Open Opening Night Gala since 2011, supporting tennis and education programs and helping the Foundation serve up dreams to those in need.

They will be honored at the 2015 US Open's Opening Night Gala, but first they sat down with us to discuss their decision to support the USTA Foundation and the importance of tennis and education programs.

How did you and your family first become involved in tennis?

Chris Combe: The long story is that it started with my father, Ivan Combe, who was born in 1911, and his father, my grandfather, who was a community doctor who died when my father was 3 years old. My father was living in Illinois and he got a job when he was 8 or 9 years old with a grocery store owner who taught him and an orphan in town to play tennis and they won the Illinois high school state tennis championships in 1928.

He studied and played tennis at Northwestern University starting in 1929, I played freshman tennis there and two of our three daughters attended Northwestern. I always thought about how fortunate my father was and what a difference tennis made in his life, so we wanted to get involved in an organization that provides opportunities for young people as well as the physically handicapped and our veterans.

How did you learn about the Foundation’s work?

Chris Combe: I got to know Todd Martin, who is the president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and who played tennis at Northwestern in the 1980s. He’s the greatest guy. He’s from Lansing, Michigan, and he started the Todd Martin Youth Leadership organization under the NJTL (National Junior Tennis & Learning network) 21 years ago that provides tennis for more than 600 kids in the Lansing area. Katrina Adams, who also played tennis for Northwestern, and who is the first African-American, first professional tennis player and youngest president of the USTA, manages the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program that has grown under her leadership from 79 to more than 1,000 kids. I got to know Katrina through Todd and others. We attended their annual gala/fundraisers and started contributing to their program.

Why is it important to you to make a difference in the lives of under-resourced populations?

Chris Combe: First and foremost, kids today really need to get out and exercise. They are too distracted by the smartphone and social media. There’s a major problem with obesity, not just in America, but around the world, and especially with kids. And the problem is associated with diabetes. Tennis provides a great opportunity for kids to get some exercise.

It doesn’t take a major investment beyond the courts – you just need some balls, a racquet and somebody to play with, or you can just hit against a wall. I really feel like tennis is the answer to solving obesity because here you have a sport that you can play your whole life. Especially in inner cities, one problem is there are a lot of bad influences, and tennis is one way that you can provide a great opportunity for kids to feel good about themselves and excel.

There are a lot of philanthropic organizations out there. Why did you choose the USTA Foundation?

Chris Combe: They do a lot of work with children, teaching them not only about tennis, but also about helping them with academics and socializing. There are many great charitable organizations out there, but our focus has been on the underserved and low-income families. Courtney is involved with the YWCA Domestic Abuse program and I’m co-chair of Malaria No More, fighting malaria that is still killing 500,000 kids, primarily in Africa.

We strongly believe in organizations that use business techniques and have transparency, efficiency and sustainability and produce a real return on investment. It’s not just about activity but impact, and the USTA Foundation has a tremendous impact on the 237,000 primarily young people it is serving.

Could you share a story about your experience partnering with the Foundation?

Courtney Combe: Every year at the USTA Foundation and Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program dinners, we meet incredible young people who are so dynamic and poised, and I’m sure it is because of their involvement in the programs. We’re just so impressed by how articulate these kids are and how motivated they are and how they interact with others. They are so impressive, and we know they will have a significant impact on this world.

What would you say to someone who is considering making a donation to the Foundation?

Chris Combe: We would say you can change a life with a small investment. The cost is really very low to change a life and is that not what organizations, whether nonprofits or governments or charities or businesses, should be concerned about? Changing lives is exactly what this organization is doing for so many deserving young people, physically challenged people and our wounded veterans. (USTA Foundation Chairman) James Blake and Katrina Adams both are products of organizations that are part of the USTA Foundation. You could not find better examples of what the Foundation is producing then James and Katrina.

Courtney Combe: You can change a person’s life. You can help create leaders for this world by changing a life through tennis.



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