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THE PLAYERS announces $500,000 gift for MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation
“It means to me that people actually care.”
Those are the words from Tyhlur Reynolds, a sixth-grade student who is the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation’s Student Athlete of the Year, when asked to describe what the $500,000 donation from THE PLAYERS meant to him.
This donation will go towards the creation of a brand-new Teen Center, that will feature programs such as a teaching kitchen, music technology and financial intelligence/literacy courses. These programs were selected by the students themselves as topics and areas that they are interested in.
This gift features not only a $500,000 grant, but also a pledge to match all further donations up to $500,000, as well as a new scholarship program. This announcement continues a 15-year partnership between THE PLAYERS and The MaliVai Washington Foundation. Current PLAYERS Executive Director, Jared Rice, expressed his pride in supporting such an impactful organization.
“We believe in them, and this scholarship is just one more way to say, a tangible way to say, that we believe in them,” Rice said.
The man behind the vision for the foundation is Jacksonville resident, former No.11 ranked tennis player in the world , and Wimbledon runner-up MaliVai Washington. Who started the foundation simply as a way to “introduce young people to the game of tennis.” However, the more time he spent with the kids, the more he realized something was lacking, primarily with their studies.
“Often times when you are engaging with young people the obvious question to ask is, how’s school?...And when students would say I might not pass this next grade. It was difficult for me to say… ‘Goodluck with that, we only do tennis’,” Washington said.
So they made a change, and for the past 20 years they’ve done much more than teach tennis. They served hope and saved lives.
The program features a large quote on the wall of one their classrooms from former USTA President Katrina Adams saying
“Take advantage of your advantage."
This is something Washington emphasizes to his students every day. With the help of the foundation, these students receive afterschool care, academic help, tennis lessons, and leadership training. It’s for reasons like this Washington doesn’t look at his students as “Disadvantaged or underprivileged.”
And on Thursday, June 27, their advantages continued to grow. In addition to their $500,000 grant received and the Scholarship Program introduced, they also received a visit from 2010 FedExCup Champion and PGA TOUR Player of The Year Jim Furyk, a longtime friend of Washington’s, who expressed his excitement in watching the organization grow over the years, and the important role it plays within the community.
“It’s a great need for kids in this area to have a safe place to come after school to learn about their studies, life skills, and really to dream big...that’s what this facility’s about, helping them strive for goals and hopefully reach those goals in the future...And now they're going to grow and be able to reach more kids in the area."
In addition to speaking words of support and inspiration, Furyk also led the students in the new “CHAMPIONS Pledge”. Pledging a commitment to integrity, hard work, and self-confidence.
“That’s an advantage I’m willing to bet no kid in Jacksonville is going to get, but our kids do,” said Washington.
However, the students’ biggest advantage maybe be MaliVai Washington himself, whom Reynolds dons as his biggest inspiration.
“I want to be a pro tennis player like him, and all the good things he did I want to be a good person just like him,” Reynolds said.
The example Washington sets on a day-to-day basis is not overlooked by his students serving as a positive light for the students to follow. In an area where many of these students are constantly surrounded by negativity.
The Organization provides young people a safe and fun environment enabling them to stay busy and stay on track. An essential component to accomplishing their goals according to Director of Tennis and FAMU tennis alum, Marc Atkinson, who was also once a member of the organization and Player of The Year.
“In this community this neighborhood there’s nothing to do for kids after school, it’s fun to shop lift, throw rocks at glass watch it shatter, knock on doors and run,” Atkinson said.
This organization provides the kids with something to do not only keeping them busy, but provide them with skills they will use for the rest of their lives.
His love for the program runs deep, and he credits it for helping him focus on school and stay on the right path.
“It saved my life; without this program I don’t know where I would be,” Atkinson said.
He invites anyone who may be curious about the organization to simply “come and visit and you’ll see what this program can do for kids.”
And now, with the new addition of THE PLAYERS sponsored team center the foundation will be able to extend its outreach even greater into the community and work with teenagers. Providing guidance during a critical point in determining the direction and shape their lives will take.
As for those who are already apart of the program like Tyhlur, he is excited for the new Teen Center, and plans to take full of advantage of his advantage by attending college. He already has $14,000 in scholarship thanks to the program and that number will only grow thanks to the new partnership between the foundation and THE PLAYERS.
When asked where he wants to go to school, Tyhlur says he hopes to attend the University of Michigan. “Just like Mr. Mal.”
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