MaliVai Washington Youth Center celebrates 25 years in Jacksonville
Its campus sits in a community oasis in one of Jacksonville’s most violent neighborhoods, next to a leafy park, the S-Line Urban Greenway public walking trail, and the Emmett Reed Center with gymnasium and swimming pool.
For 25 years, the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation tennis courts have been home to programs that first blended tennis and education for children from kindergarten to fifth grade and now works with low income city teens on life skills and more.
Despite the crime outside, the tennis champion’s programs have grown. Its 13-year-old youth center offers tutoring and life skills programs in elementary schools. And amid the COVID-19 pandemic, its Club 904 center opened over the summer to host tutoring and life skills programs for middle and high school students.
Nina McBride, a sophomore at Andrew Jackson High School, was one of 200 students this past afternoon. The 16-year-old said she saw police cars driving towards an incident nearby a few weeks ago, but she feels the center has always been a “safe place for me”.
“It gave us a lot of opportunities and it helps us improve our grades,” said McBride, who is aiming for a career as a pediatrician. “… It can keep a lot of us teenagers from getting off the streets.”
Dig a little deeper: MaliVai Washington Foundation: a lifeline for children at risk
AFTER: MaliVai Washington’s Annual Gala Gets More Power With Andre Agassi Appearance
AFTER: USTA contributes $ 75,000 to MaliVai Washington in Jacksonville
Kendall Ford, a second-year preparation student at Stanton College who is examining a possible future in marine biology, environmental engineering or psychology, is aware of crime in the urban core around the center. But he also highlighted the efforts of their campus and their community to help the Durkeeville area, such as the nearby urban greenway.
“Yes, this community has its adversities, but there is also a lot of beauty within it,” he said. “… There are community organizations, but you don’t really see them growing and taking root in the community. But this foundation has found a niche so that it can help the community and grow to help everyone. “
Hope in the urban core
The centre’s programs are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year in Durkeeville and the ability to provide hope to inner-city students, Washington said. A dream that he says began with some tennis clinics in Jacksonville in 1996 has now helped around 20,000 children living near some of the city’s highest crime, poverty and school dropout rates.
The need was there, as were the tennis courts and the room for after-school programs, so Washington said one of Jacksonville’s “toughest neighborhoods” was where they were headed.
“We wanted to do it in a difficult area that really needed some kind of extra programming for the kids. That area turned out to be everything,” Washington said. “… This is absolutely the right place and the right time for it, because wherever the place, children are children. And children need programs.”
Washington was 5 when he started playing tennis, and at 18 he had a scholarship to the University of Michigan and twice became an All-American. His professional career began in 1989 and he was named Rookie of the Year by the Professional Tennis Association the following year. He appeared in the Wimbledon men’s singles final in 1996 and won four ATP titles and wins in major tournaments before a knee injury kept him sidelined in 1999.
At the time, Washington and his father had started a “paper-based” foundation to bring the informal talks he had with the Jacksonville kids between tours to something more formal, he said. So he sent an email to Terri Florio, then director of a tennis tournament and now CEO and executive director of the foundation.
She suggested working with boys ‘and girls’ clubs on children’s tennis programs.
“My response was, ‘Great, but how do we do it,'” Washington said.
Thus began the partnership of the tennis program with the Boys and Girls Clubs at the end of 1996, followed by a move to the Reed Center in the Durkeeville district. Washington opened the Youth Center Across the Street in 2008 at 1055 W. Sixth St. in partnership with the city.
“There was no big plan,” he says now. “It was something as simple as telling Terri that when I got home from a six week tour, it would be great if I could just go to a tennis court with kids in Jacksonville, kids who otherwise would not have the opportunity. “
Expanding a “ game changer ”
These tennis camps with educational assistance have developed into a comprehensive program for low-income youth, Washington said. There is a Tennis-n-Tutoring after-school development program for K-5 children that combines academic assistance with mentoring and tennis lessons.
Then came the two-story Club 904 in September for high school students, after raising $ 5.5 million to build it next to the Reed Center. It has a study room, a living room, a games room and an educational kitchen next to a large classroom. Upstairs are several classrooms for academic assistance, college and career preparation, life skills, and STEM and music lessons.
“There seemed to be a consensus among the staff that serving teenagers was where we really needed to be focused,” Washington said.
Mayor Lenny Curry applauded the 25-year history of Washington’s vision come true, saying it had “had a huge impact” in the lives of countless young men and women.
“It started as a way for this local tennis legend to share his love for the sport with the next generation, and it has evolved into a comprehensive after-school youth development program in the heart of the historic community of Durkeeville, ”Curry said. “In addition to collaborations with the Kids Hope Alliance, a recent partnership is the brand new teenage center, Club 904, which provides essential services such as academic assistance, mental health counseling, vocational and leadership training, preparation for university and aid for scholarships, and recreational activities for our young “in hope”. “
Despite the crime in this area, good things are happening in the community, including central Washington, said City Councilor Ju’Coby Pittman, who is one of the areas that draws children to the foundation. Thanking him for his vision to start a tennis program that includes academics and life skills, she called the 25-year-old center a “game changer” who has changed children’s lives.
“He is committed by bringing his talent, resources and connections to underserved areas to give back,” she said. “It continues to be a safe haven and a lifeline for children to continue to live outside of their neighborhood. … Programs like this meet kids early on and help them become things they never thought they could be.
McBride, Andrew Jackson’s second student, admits that without the center she would have been “home bored” all these years.
“We’re going on a college tour to look at different schools we might want to go to,” she said. “We do different activities like bonding between teenagers.”
For Ford, the foundation has been a “pretty exciting” place since he started there in fourth grade with tennis and class projects.
“Now we have this new building and there are so many new activities on offer like photography, animation and guitar,” he said. “The ability to broaden my horizons and to work is really fun.”
The foundation also awarded $ 1.1 million in scholarships to students to pursue higher education, with all of its teens graduating from high school on time, according to its website.
The centre’s goals are to be there for the long term, continuing to “provide the best programming for children that we can serve,” Washington said. Club 904 will ultimately help them to double the number of children helped soon, although COVID-19 is slowing things down for now.
Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549
MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation
1996 – First tennis clinic
2000 – First Tennis-N-Tutoring
2004 – Beginning of the mentoring program
2007 – Opening of tennis courts
2008 – Opening of the youth center
2020 – Opening of Club 904
The foundation has donated $ 1.1 million in scholarships for higher education, with more than 20,000 children reached through tennis clinics, outreach programs, summer camps and after-school programs . Everyone who completed the program completed high school on time.
For more information, visit malwashington.com, or call (904) 359.5437