Nurtured by Stanford's longtime men's tennis coach Dick Gould and many others, the nonprofit East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring this month marks 25 years of using tennis to build skills, persistence and opportunity to help low-income kids beat the odds.
"I was one of those kids not wanting to do my homework, not wanting to listen to any authority figure, not having the mom or dad to help me out," said Ebony Isaac, a participant of the organization from seventh grade until her graduation from Eastside College Preparatory School in 2008.
Isaac, a 2012 psychology graduate of Menlo College, returned to the program recently as a paid intern.
Now she tries to get through to kids she views as versions of her earlier self.
"If I see a kid sitting alone, waiting for a tutor I'll sit and ask them how they're doing that day and they'll gradually open up," Isaac said.
"I try to let them know that even if they're not doing that great in school, if they do 'xyz' they'll be able to flourish.
"It's just little things. They'll ask me about college life and I give honest answers. I think it really helps them to see the possibilities."
Isaac's official job at the organization is coordinating and recruiting Stanford undergraduates to become tutors, which is accomplished most effectively face to face, she said.
"The main thing that works is literally approaching people in White Plaza, the Quad, Tresidder, the Old Union — just putting yourself out there and asking, 'Hey, would you like to tutor a kid from East Palo Alto, would you like to make a difference in a young child's life?'"
Stanford student Catherine Murashige, a senior majoring in human biology, heard that call her freshman year and has stuck with the nonprofit as a middle-school tutor all four years.
Murashige, who will continue at Stanford next year to earn a credential to become a high-school biology teacher, helps manage tutors and make sure academic goals for each child are clear.
"I wasn't really a people person when I started this job, but now I know how to schedule meetings with people, converse with them, bring them together toward a common goal and speak up when I have an idea," Murashige said.
Former Stanford All-American player Jeff Arons launched East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring in 1988 on the courts of the long-closed campus of Ravenswood High School in East Palo Alto.
The high school eventually was demolished, but interest and funds from tennis professionals like John McEnroe, Tim Mayotte and Jim Grabb led to the building of new courts on the campus of Cesar Chavez Middle School. Tutoring was added in 1994.
After a 1997 fire destroyed the tutoring classrooms at Cesar Chavez, the organization moved to the Stanford campus.
Last year, it re-launched more tennis instruction in East Palo Alto, which now serves 170 kids in addition to the 112 who come to Stanford.
Of the organization's 18 full- and part-time staff, 11 live in East Palo Alto and most are graduates of the program. About 135 Stanford students come twice a week for an hour and a half.
Parents rotate in preparing and delivering dinner each night.
Besides tennis and tutoring, the organization in the past 10 years has helped more than 70 students gain admission to local private schools and arranges college tours for high-school students.
"We want to sustain the program we have and hopefully improve it," Gould said at a May 14 fundraising dinner at Menlo Circus Club.
"We're limited by the size of the facility. We can't take any more students and our wait list is off the charts.
"This is our biggest challenge. Without diluting what we do best, how do we serve more kids in need?"
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