Former participant begins career at NJTL program

Jordan_Baca_-_graduation_photo
February 23, 2018 02:15 PM

By Corina Tse, USTA Foundation

 

Jordan Baca was a 13 year-old student in the seventh grade whose family was on welfare. At times, Jordan’s parents were physically and emotionally unavailable to be fully present in her and her brother’s lives as they struggled to financially provide for their family. In an effort to ensure that her daughter would stay out of trouble and instead be surrounded by positive influences, Jordan’s mom asked Jordan to choose a new after school program to attend.

 

Jordan decided to join First Serve - New Mexico as a program participant as she had an interest in tennis; however, she expected that First Serve - New Mexico would not be much different from other after school programs she had previously participated in where she was also able to finish her homework before going home. First Serve - New Mexico, one of more than 350 USTA Foundation-affiliated organizations that provide tennis, education and life-skills programming to under-resourced youth, quickly became more than just an afterschool program to Jordan. Throughout her six years as a participant, Jordan developed a sense of belonging in this stable and structured environment, a place where she knew she could return to no matter what was going on in her personal life at home.

 

Jordan, with the help of a recommendation letter that her mentors at First Serve - New Mexico wrote, received a substantial scholarship to attend the University of Northern Colorado’s College of Humanities & Social Sciences. Jordan emphasized that without this scholarship, her family would not have been able to afford to send her to college. While furthering her education at the University of Northern Colorado, she was able to hone her writing skills through a project for First Serve - New Mexico, where she interviewed some of the program’s past students and wrote narratives about where they were now.

 

During her senior year, Jordan was named one of the “2017 Outstanding Undergraduates” by the University’s Journalism & Media Studies Program and received an award recognizing academic excellence at the annual HSS Honors Convocation. In May 2017, Jordan became the first member of her immediate family to earn a four-year degree when she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communications, with minors in English and Writing.

 

Jordan, now 23, has started her post-undergraduate career at the National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) program that played such a crucial role in her adolescence and is extremely proud that she is progressing to a point where she can support herself without needing as much help from her family. Jordan indicated that her participation in the program as well as her mentors’ investment in her personal growth helped her build self-confidence, recognize her own worth and realize that she wanted to be involved with non-profit organizations after finishing college. “Growing up, I had often thought that someday in the distant future, once I had made it, I would be able to create, or work for, a program that helps children, just like the ones that helped me. So working with First Serve - New Mexico now seems like skipping ahead to a future I thought would take much longer to materialize,” said Jordan.   

As an Administrative Assistant at First Serve - New Mexico, Jordan is primarily responsible for the developmental editing of profiles highlighting program participants, writing press releases, and working with current students to further develop their writing skills. Jordan expressed her gratitude for the valuable experiences she has had thus far in her part-time position with the organization and said that she is excited about the opportunity to be a positive influence on some of the program’s current participants. “My favorite part of working with First Serve - New Mexico is that I can work directly with the kids and mentor them. I am passionate about being an honest and relatable role model for them, and I want to share a lot of my experiences with them because I know what it's like to be in their shoes.”

 

Eleanor Brenner, First Serve - New Mexico’s co-founder and Executive Director, has witnessed Jordan’s personal development over the past ten years and shared that it was the combination of Jordan’s exceptional work ethic and First Serve - New Mexico's support that has empowered Jordan and allowed her to succeed on and off the court. “Jordan's preternatural abilities were exhibited when she first joined First Serve - New Mexico in 7th grade. However, her intelligence and talent would have been wasted were it not for her own work ethic and the constant and continual support First Serve - New Mexico was able to provide her,” said Brenner, who was one of Jordan’s mentors while she was a program participant. “First Serve - New Mexico gave Jordan an inner power to know she was capable of creating her own success.”

 

Reflecting on First Serve-New Mexico’s fifteen-year history, Brenner attributed the organization’s positive impact on Jordan’s life to the support that the USTA Foundation has provided over the years. "Jordan is one of over 1,100 students who have had the opportunity to participate in First Serve - New Mexico. Looking back on these past 15 years, I know that without the financial support we have received from the USTA Foundation, it would not have been probable that First Serve - New Mexico could have made the dramatic difference in Jordan’s life that we so obviously have,” she said. “It is exciting to know that there are many, many more following in Jordan’s footsteps, including her own brother."

 

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To learn more about the impact that First Serve-New Mexico had on Jordan’s life, read Jordan’s powerful letter below.  

 

In order to truly understand the impact First Serve – New Mexico has had on my life, it is necessary to know what was going on in the background for the six years I was in the program. I was, for a long time, the definition of “at risk,” because certain setbacks that would be minor bumps in the road for some could have thrown my family and me severely off course. It was not an easy period of time for us, but just as one thing could tip the scales for the worst, First Serve was one of the major things that pushed me in a positive direction. This program had an important role in the trajectory of my adolescence, and even my family. I can’t imagine where I’d be now if I hadn’t chosen this path, and received the guidance I did along the way.

 

At the time I joined First Serve, my family was toeing the line between poverty and middle class. My mother, in efforts to keep making ends meet, was stuck in a turbulent, unsteady relationship so that the bills would be paid on time. We were on welfare, and she had to work full time in order to keep us afloat – not doing so would sacrifice our healthcare. This translated to a home life where my brother and I were often support for each other because our parents were stretched too thin to be present, and too at odds to be emotionally available.

 

Joining First Serve was a practical choice. My mother knew the risks of leaving a thirteen-year-old to her own devices for a matter of hours after school. She didn’t want me to get sucked into anything that would make me grow up faster than I already was, so she told me I needed to choose an after school program. First Serve was a much smaller program back then, and I chose it because I had an interest in tennis and I liked the idea of finishing my homework before going home. I thought learning tennis in particular could help me bond with my stepfather, as he had been a great athlete when he was younger. I was really only looking at it as a regular afterschool program, like others I had been in for years before. I wasn’t expecting to gain so much from it, or for First Serve to become such a touchstone for my adolescence, and beyond.

 

I was part of the program for six straight years, in the school year and the summer. From seventh through twelfth grade, the program saw me through many ups and downs in life – from inevitable traumas and familial hardships to great triumphs. One of the key things I gained from being in First Serve was a stable and structured environment that I could return to every day, no matter what was going on in my home life. In tutoring, there were mentors and teachers who helped me stay on track with assignments and grades. I also made a lot of friends in the program that became an extended family. The people in First Serve really made me feel like I had a place during times when I didn’t get that feeling anywhere else. At the program, the weight of everything else was alleviated for a time.

 

My mother raised me with the support and encouragement to determine my future – she never pressured me to be or do anything that I didn’t want for myself. So, I was a relatively self-sustaining student. I took to school and really enjoyed learning. I was often ahead of the curve in my subjects, but at the same time I struggled emotionally. I struggled over internal roadblocks that got me involved in friendships and relationships that reflected the diminished image of my own worth. Eleanor and Elizabeth have stuck by me through all of that, and invested in me in times when I wasn’t able to invest in myself.

 

Continually, Eleanor and Elizabeth have shown me my own worth with their support. They wrote a stellar recommendation letter that helped me get a major college scholarship to the University of Northern Colorado (without which I wouldn’t have been able to afford college at all). And, knowing that I had a passion for writing, they gave me my first writing job while I was in college, both giving me experience in my field and setting a precedent for the value of my work. Of all the programs I have been a part of, First Serve has been the most dedicated to keeping in touch and involved in my life, as I have been out of the program for four years. I’m extremely proud that I can be one of the first college graduate students to come out of the program, and I have deep gratitude to First Serve for their part in my development. In May I received my BA in Journalism and Mass Communications, with minors in English and writing.

 

At its core, I think First Serve – New Mexico serves children by unlocking their talent and drive, and teaching them how to maintain it. The program is really all about showing the kids that they’re worth the fight, the money, and the time, no matter who they are or where they come from. My younger brother has also been part of the program for the past five years, and I can see in him the same building confidence I experienced. The program encourages all of the students not only to dream, but also to learn and do what it takes to achieve those dreams. In this way the next generation (my generation) can break the patterns in their lives that keep them from attaining their highest level of achievement.

 

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First Serve - New Mexico, founded in 2003, impacts the lives of children and teens in Santa Fe through individualized mentoring, specialized academic tutoring, a nationally implemented life skills curriculum, and rigorous tennis instruction in a team format. First Serve - New Mexico uses a comprehensive tracking tool to measure each student’s quarterly progress towards the objectives of scholastic expertise, tennis proficiency, self-discipline, self-confidence and self-esteem. To learn more about First Serve - New Mexico, visit http://www.firstservenewmexico.org/.

 

And to donate to the USTA Foundation and serve up dreams to students like Jordan, click here.

 

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