Stamford program serves an ACE

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February 22, 2016 02:21 PM

By James Maimonis, special to USTAFoundation.com

STAMFORD, CONN. – Stamford Youth Tennis Academy (SYTA) celebrated its one-year anniversary as a freestanding entity this past December and has already made an immediate impact in the Stamford community.

Its mission is to give Stamford’s underprivileged youth the opportunity to become tennis players, at no cost, while also teaching them life skills and helping them achieve academic success.

SYTA is the brainchild of Art Goldblatt, well known in the southern Connecticut community for founding Norwalk Grassroots Tennis, a program committed to giving children the opportunity to learn and play the game of tennis. Goldblatt is also on the board of the Connecticut Alliance for Tennis and Education, which funds tennis and education programs throughout New Haven, Bridgeport, Norwalk, Danbury and Stamford.

With the help of the Connecticut Alliance, USTA New England, the City of Stamford, the 100 Black Men and many local organizations and volunteers, SYTA has established itself as the only free youth tennis program in Stamford. The program targets children with little tennis experience who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals in school.

SYTA currently operates twice a week out of Shippan Racquet Club from October through May and at Cummings Park in Stamford three times a week during the summer months, with approximately 60 kids enrolled in its programming.

Local tennis pros Ivan Lucic and Danny Nguyen, along with numerous volunteers, are on site each and every session to guide the players – a key aspect of SYTA that Executive Director Linda Cremin says has helped shape the program.  

“One of the most important features is the consistency and continuity of our pros and volunteers,” Cremin said. “They are there all the time, the kids get to know and trust them and they are the backbone of our program.”

Thus far, SYTA programming has received rave reviews from both players and parents.

“Our indoor sessions in the winter are only an hour, and when we’re finished, the overwhelming comment is, ‘It’s over already?’ And that’s what we really want to hear,” Cremin said.  

Beyond tennis, the goal of each session is to incorporate an educational component, whether it’s a lesson tying the sport to everyday life, help with homework during the school year or books and games in the summer.

“Sometimes what we do is the head pro will show the kids a sheet of paper with three words on it on how to be a polite tennis player and person. He will then show them an explanation of the words,” Goldblatt said. “What this does is show the kids that we care about more than just tennis and that they should too. I think the message is really getting across to them.”

The newest addition to the SYTA education initiative is the implementation of the USTA Foundation’s Academic Creative Engagement (ACE) curriculum, designed to improve kids’ attitudes and behaviors around math, literacy and school climate.

SYTA held its first of five monthly ACE workshops on Jan. 31 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Stamford Government Center, immediately following an hour of tennis at Shippan.

During the first workshop, students participated primarily in team-building exercises and “getting to know you” activities to familiarize themselves with other students.

“I think they particularly enjoyed getting to know more about each other,” said Beth Eiseman, SYTA board member and ACE program director. “Even though some of the children have been in the tennis program for two to three years, they weren't aware of each other’s interests prior to the ACE program.”  

As most successful youth programs do, SYTA stresses a balance between education and recreation. And over the next four months, students will encounter an entirely new perspective on education.

“ACE will be beneficial in many ways. In Stamford, we have such a diverse community. This program helps our youth navigate what can be tricky territory--understanding, respecting and appreciating differences,” Eiseman said. “It gives them the opportunity to share their views and hold guided yet very open discussions about differences in race, economics, etc.”

“To ensure our children's future, we need to make sure our players are well rounded. This means that they not only know how to play tennis, but they also need to know how to work well with people of diverse backgrounds, have great communication skills and have a good foundation in math in preparation for college and career,” Eiseman added. “ACE is a great vehicle for our students to achieve all of these skills. Probably the most valuable part of ACE is the way it helps our players build their self-esteem and confidence.”

Eiseman noted that many of the students eagerly asked if the program would be happening again the following weekend, already validating her commitment to the program after just one session.

SYTA has grown significantly in its first official year, establishing a solid foundation that includes a board of directors, Friends of the SYTA, a dedicated crew of volunteers and an enthusiastic group of children and parents. But Goldblatt and his team want nothing more that so than to see the program flourish and make an even greater impact on the community.

“In some ways, we have made wonderful accomplishments already,” Goldblatt said. “It is important to us to get our existence and mission before the Stamford community as a whole. It is a prosperous city, and if we can get the attention of some people there, I think we can do very well.”

To learn more about Stamford Youth Tennis Academy, visit www.stamfordyouthtennisacademy.org.

To see this story as it appeared on USTA New England, click here.

 

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