When King Street Youth Center began offering after-school and weekend activities to children in downtown Burlington, Vermont, the organization’s “headquarters” was a van parked outside the neighborhood Laundromat. Thirty-seven years later, the Center—now located just steps from its original home—has grown to serve thousands of underprivileged and at-risk youth through educationally-driven programming. Argosy’s three-year partnership with King Street has centered on the “Kids on the Move” program, giving children the chance to participate in athletic activities including free tennis and swimming lessons.
Mike Ballard, King Street’s development director, says the “Kids on the Move” tennis program—which has been the focus of Argosy’s support—is used to supplement other activities offered by the organization, such as homework tutoring. “There are hundreds of organizations across the country that use tennis as a tool to reach underprivileged youth,” he explains, “but most programs emphasize the game first and academic and social support second. We approach it from the other end, starting with a strong basis in education.”
“Kids on the Move” began seven years ago, when tennis pro Jake Agna, who had been teaching tennis privately for over 25 years, started to think seriously about the idea of nonprofit tennis and how to introduce the game to kids who’d never picked up a racquet before. Because of Jake’s deep roots in the tennis community, it wasn’t long before he raised enough money to pay for 20 scholarships to the youth program at the local tennis club. Working with King Street was a “natural fit,” says Jake, because of the organization’s strong reputation in town.
Today, Agna’s tennis lessons are offered at King Street through after-school and summer programs. According to Mike, children get much more out of the game than just a good time. “Tennis is great exercise,” he says, “but it’s also a game that kids can play throughout their lifetimes. And so much of what these kids are learning has nothing to do with physical fitness. It’s about learning how to follow rules and wait in line, how to interact with adults, and how to get along with kids from very different backgrounds.”
Mike says the tennis lessons give King Street youth an opportunity to “see parts of society that they just don't otherwise get to see,” tying into the organization’s mission to expose children to the wider community. Other programs at King Street work toward the same goal, whether they involve music and art classes or visits to area museums. “It’s all about finding a child’s inner passion, and doing what we can to develop that,” explains Mike.
As a result of the organization’s focus on education and lifelong lessons, King Street has won several national awards for its tennis programming from the United States Tennis Association. King Street was also invited to participate in the USTA’s capacity-building program, which brings together the best programs from across the country to learn from each others’ success. Mike believes support from Argosy and others has allowed the nonprofit to grow in such a way that it is now recognized at the national level.
Moreover, the grant from Argosy has helped King Street attract other funders in ways that are increasing the long-term sustainability of the tennis program. For instance, in early 2008, King Street secured funding to cover the costs of court time at the health club for the next five years. Argosy is extremely pleased when its initial investments help partners leverage support from other organizations, and the Foundation is confident that King Street Youth Center will continue to expand its work both locally and nationally through its tennis program in the coming years.