The Israel Tennis Centers Foundation is once again coming to the Wellington area with a High-Performance Tennis Exhibition and Grand Reception at the Wycliffe Golf & Country Club.
The tennis exhibition matches take place at Wycliffe’s Stadium Court on Saturday, March 2 from 3:45 to 7 p.m. The tennis event is free, but reservations are required, as the venue was full last year. Immediately after the exhibition, the reception will take place in the dining room.
While the event is fairly new to the area, the program and its work have a long history.
“About 47 years ago in Israel, they realized there is a very big underprivileged population of children,” event co-chair Marty Ross explained. “And they realized that these children would not have an easy time to be able to grow up and mature and contribute to society.”
The organization now supports 14 tennis centers across Israel. Children are accepted in the program regardless of religion, gender or skill level.
“We serve more than 20,000 children, and we are considered to be one of the largest social services in Israel,” said Yani Yair, vice president of development for the Israel Tennis Centers Foundation. “The goal was to keep children off the streets by having tennis as a medium, bring them into a safe and positive environment, and improve their quality of life. What we do at the centers is empower our children through sports and education.”
The intentions of the Israel Tennis Centers Foundation reach far beyond teaching kids about sports. It offers programs for children with special needs, living in at-risk communities and those immigrating to Israel from other countries.
“We serve Jewish children, Christian children and Muslim children,” Yair said. “We do a lot of social activities and a lot of field trips. We celebrate holidays. One of the unique things is regardless of background or religion, you are still welcome.”
Programs like ITC’s Coexistence get the kids together on the tennis courts where they learn respect for each other. Yair feels the long-term impacts of the program create strong leaders and provide new opportunities, as well as hope for the future.
“I was one of the first children who came back,” Yair said. “And from the centers, the social aspect of being in a place that helped me with my education, it helped shape my life and give me life skills. I learned how to deal with success and failure, and how to work hard. You can relate to other areas in life with the skills learned.”
Another unique service provided is the Girls at Risk Empowerment Program. Designed specifically to help girls ages 12 to 16 years old, it helps give these young women both the skills and confidence to live successful lives as adults.
The centers also provide children help with homework and tutors when needed. Hot meals are also available for children who are less fortunate and need extra support.
“It is meaningful,” Yair said. “Through the years, I think it is important that we have served more than half-a-million children. It is definitely impactful on the society in Israel.”
The support and training for the children has yielded measurable results. According to the ITC, hundreds of youth graduating from the program have received scholarships to play tennis at colleges and universities in the U.S.
“These kids are growing up with bombs and bullets,” Ross said. “This is teaching kids how to live by competing and how to have fun.”
The exhibition travels to several locations in Florida each winter, and Wycliffe joined the list of sites just last year. Hundreds came out to watch the young athletes in action on the court and stayed afterward to learn more about the participants first-hand.
The four young ambassadors speaking at the reception this year range in age from 9 to 19 years old.
“What makes this special is the children have the opportunity to speak and share about their life in Israel, and what impact the organization has on their life. Hearing from the children is inspiring,” Yair said.
Both the tennis exhibition and grand reception are scheduled for Saturday, March 2 at the Wycliffe Golf & Country Club, with matches taking place from 3:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. In the case of inclement weather, the matches will move to Sunday, March 3 at 10 a.m.
The event is being sponsored by Ellen and Steve Wechsler. The Wechslers also serve as co-chairs of the event, along with Harriet and Marty Ross.
For additional information on the event and ITC programs, call (954) 480-6333, ext. 222, or visit www.israeltenniscenters.org.