The Washington Tennis & Education Foundation celebrates the opening of a new tennis, education and community center with a ribbon-cutting event on Nov. 17. PHOTO BY BILL PETROS
Bill Petros

Kevin Tindle, who grew up in Ward 8, had his life threatened by neighborhood gang members at age 13 after he witnessed a serious crime. He became, in his words, ‘a recluse’ in his own community.

Luckily, though, Tindle had friends looking out for him. A sponsor from the nonprofit Washington Tennis & Education Foundation financed his enrollment in a private boarding school in Maryland, enabling him to leave the troubling situation behind.

‘I might not have made it out of Southeast alive’ had it not been for WTEF and the sponsor, he said.
Tindle, now 24, has come a long way since then. He graduated from Shippensberg University School of Pennsylvania, where he played football, and is now on track to graduate from the University of the District of Columbia Law School in a year.

Since 1955, WTEF has been helping young people from Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8 reach academic and athletic milestones.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 17, the organization marked a milestone of its own: the long-awaited opening of a new tennis, education and community center in the heart of Ward 7.

More than 350 children and their families were joined by city officials and other dignitaries to celebrate the opening of the $10.2 million, 50,000 square-foot facility, located just off East Capitol Street, close to where many of the children who benefit from WTEF programs live.

The new center joins the WTEF’s well-established Northwest D.C. center, which opened in 1991.
And with six indoor tennis courts, nine outdoor courts, a weight room, three classrooms, a computer room, a study room, staff offices and a community meeting room, the new East Capital Campus, which can accomodate 3,000 students, will allow WTEF to double the number of children its serves.

WTEF’s programs are designed to offer some of the District’s poorest children one-on-one academic help from D.C. public school teachers and tennis training and coaching from U.S. Tennis Association certified instructors, plus match, local and sometimes national tournament play. All instruction and coaching is free. No one is turned away, and there is a steady stream of new kids, organizers say.

The new facility will be home to the foundation’s Center for Excellence, which prepares kids in grades 1-12 for college, as well as its Arthur Ashe Children’s Program, which goes into 24 elementary and middle schools in Northeast and Southeast and teaches academics, tennis and life skills. The new building will also house the foundation’s literacy program and a new pre-school program.

“Our priority is to serve the underserved children of Washington, D.C.,” WTEF Executive Director Eleni Rossides said in an interview. “People don’t usually invest in underserved communities, but we do.”
Rossides and Program Director Willis Thomas have a long history of collaboration. Rossides grew up in D.C. and played tennis at Sidwell Friends School in upper Northwest. After being No. 1 in the nation as a player at Stanford University, she graduated and spent eight years on the women’s pro tour. She wanted to be coached by Thomas, her coach on the tour. She volunteered at WTEF, which at the time was Thomas’ program.

“Watching what he could do with these children could be amazing,” she said. “Willis and his staff know how to handle these kids, motivate and discipline them, how to be tough and at the same time loving these kids.”

The results show in the success of WTEF’s program graduates, who go on to succeed in college at a high rate. The program has found support from private donors and the District government. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said he sees the center as an investment in the part of the city east of the Anacostia, which is often neglected.

“Not only is this Center magnificent, but to see it east of the River is phenomenal,” he said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor H. Norton called the new center not only “a gift to the city, but also to kids of Northeast and Southeast.”

Rossides said the new center will do more than expand the reach of the WTEP program.
“We feel strongly (it) will transform the community.”

As for Tindle, he anticipates pursuing a career in public policy once he graduates law school. He says he owes his hopeful future to WTEF.

“This is a program that truly changed my life,” Tindle said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”