Mississippi NJTL Family Biz Builder featured in Tennis magazine

Peggie Henderson in the executive director of Family Biz Builder in Tunica, Miss.
January 11, 2021 01:30 PM

While tennis was never an integral part of Peggie Henderson's upbringing in Tunica, Mississippi, she's making sure that the sport is front and center for her hometown's next generation as executive director of the NJTL chapter Family Biz Builder.

With the support of the USTA Foundation and its 'Rally to Rebuild' campaign that provided crucial financial support for NJTLs around the country in an unprecedented 2020, Henderson — who is featured in the recently-published January/February issue of Tennis magazine that highlights the campaign (pictured below) — and others like her remain committed to serving their communities in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The origins of Family Biz Builder trace back to 2014, with Henderson having recently returned to her roots in the area after two decades away. A self-described business manager and entrepreneur, Henderson was compelled to give back to her hometown when she observed that young people were affected by much of what characterized the area in her youth. As of the last U.S. Census, Tunica County reported a 28.1 percent rate of "persons in poverty," and median household income of $39,370 (2015-19). In addition, just 16.9 percent of respondents ages 25 and older held a bachelor's degree or higher. (Source)

"Looking at the mindset of the people when I came back, I said, ‘It’s the same, old way. They think the same way,'’" Henderson said earlier this month. "That’s where the vision of the organization came into play: to develop a growth mindset. In this area, we’ve had a history of low literacy, reading below grade level. When I first got back, the teachers who were coming to work in Tunica County would leave and quit because of behavioral issues of the kids. I said, ‘Well, we really need to work on that.’

"When I came back to Tunica, I said that whatever we do to help Tunica, the character development of our kids had to be involved."

Henderson's community-first approach soon saw her strike up a working relationship with the Tunica National Golf & Tennis Club and the GW Henderson Recreation Center, both of which are county-owned. Shortly after the organization’s founding, Henderson was connected with Geoff Norton of USTA Southern, and section leadership helped FBB establish itself as an NJTL chapter.

“They [at Tunica National] wanted the kids in Tunica County to be involved with golf and tennis, and the character piece of what we wanted to do was also important to them,” she said. “We put together a program with a focus on education in the first hour and tennis in the second hour. I knew nothing about tennis — what they were talking about at that time was all foreign to me — but in my research and studies, I learned that tennis was a great youth development sport.
FBB featured in the January/February 2021 issue of Tennis.

"Family Biz Builder is a youth development organization, so I said we’d have a great reason to focus on tennis: to introduce our kids to something they’ve never had before, never been introduced to before, that could change their lives. We're dealing with kids who don't have tennis in the home. We're talking tennis, and their parents are talking basketball and football. Since we've gotten in the home, we've been able to show parents that tennis is a good sport.

“When I started with the [USTA Foundation’s] A.C.E. curriculum, we learned our kids couldn’t read it. They couldn’t tell you anything about it. Education is not my background, but I got angry. Our kids in kindergarten through sixth grade were going through the school system, and the fourth, fifth and sixth graders were on the same reading level as the kindergarteners. It really floored me. I said, ‘We can’t sit back. It might not be my background, but I can do something about it.’"

With Henderson's passion at the helm, the organization’s growth has also been aided in a tangible way since 2018 through the USTA Southern Blueprint for Success program, a collaborative effort between the USTA Foundation, USTA Southern and the Southern Tennis Foundation.

This capacity-building program provides financial, management and technical assistance to selected NJTLs to help expand their influence and impact in their communities. 

"That really put us in the position that we're standing in today," Henderson said. "I recognized that the strength of any organization is in the business side of it, because we had to show a return on the investment that we were given. With the business and the programming side together, we can get the outcomes we want. We've gone through SWOT analysis, and because of capacity building, we were able to get training in grant-writing, strategic planning, accounting and more... and I can say that we're stronger since coming through this than we were before."

Over the past six years, FBB has developed three unique training blocks — centered around literacy and education, tennis and physical activity, and career development — each of which have been retooled for remote and virtual participation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having grown from 20 participants to over 100 in the years since its founding, FBB has utilized online free resources available to them, including USTA’s tennis at home and Net Generation resources, in keeping as many of their participants connected as possible. 

"We've planned to stay in the Tunica-owned facilities until at least 2025," Henderson explained, "but when COVID hit, the schools closed, then the facilities closed. We suspended the program at Tunica National. We had a conference call with our parents to see if they were interested in us providing services remotely to their kids, and they said yes. That's how we pivoted the program and went remote, and it started to grow. We had mentoring coaches assigned to each child via FaceTime and video calls, and used online educational curriculums."

Henderson estimated that half of those students participated in remote programming regularly in 2020, with a majority using the aforementioned learning tools before remote tennis instruction began in September. As FBB continues to stay compliant with health and safety guidelines, Henderson hopes to return to serving 100 student-athletes in total, divided evenly between literacy and education and tennis participants with some room for crossover, in 2021. With the help of her sister, the organization has also established a small training center with what Henderson calls their "practice park," which will allow the students to respect social-distancing while keeping active, and parents to see the sport in action until FBB can return to its previous locations.

"The goal is to show them that you don't have to have courts. You see kids out playing football without being on a football field. Why not do the same with tennis that they can play in the yard?" she added.

"We're working on having all different kinds of tennis equipment... and this will get the kids used to playing tennis. We want to show that you can get tennis in rural areas that know nothing about it. Other kids who are served by tennis, they have it in their homes, they go to country clubs and all, but for our kids, it's different. This introduction, hopefully, will then get them going to the courts... and when they hit the ground running, they'll know the basics."

A firm believer in the classic mantra that "it takes a village to raise a child," Henderson says that she remains more committed than ever to building a better future for Tunica youth, even despite the challenges brought on by recent world events.

"I'm here because I want to make a difference," she said. "With this work, you just have to care, care about what happens to these kids, and not just let the same old thing to go on year after year, for 100 years, doing the same thing."

 

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