Marking year 51 for the Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program (HJTEP), former board chair James R. Kelly III, wearing a seersucker suit in memory of the late Mayor David Dinkins, delighted the audience at last week’s gala with a donation of $51,000. The mood was festive and the energy high—there was even a mini tennis court in the ballroom—as attendees celebrated the program that combines tennis with educational and wellness programming for boys and girls ages 6–18.
“I like the community. I like that coaches care about your progress and that everyone has each other’s backs when you’re playing,” said senior Mia Edwards, who has been with HJTEP since middle school.
“I enjoy the different personalities at the program. It makes the practices fun. And different play styles. I like how sometimes we can come together as a group and be friends. A lot of us are really close,” said Kayon Johns, a senior who has been with NJTEP for six years. He will attend SUNY Buffalo, where he plans to double major in financial analytics and law, and hopes to also play competitive tennis.
All of this year’s 11 seniors are bound for college. Most hope to play tennis, if not at the varsity level, at least as a club sport.
Watching such a successful group of graduates fueled HJTEP executive director Katrina Adams’s positive energy. She liked showcasing their on-court abilities for everyone to see. “For our donors to see our kids out here on the mini court having fun shows they are adaptable to any environment,” Adams said. “To have 11 graduating seniors is phenomenal. It’s a blessing and what the program is all about.”
Among the honorees was former professional tennis player turned coach and commentator Rennae Stubbs. She called the evening fantastic and was thrilled to be a part of it.
“The bottom line is we’re giving back to the community of Harlem, especially to the young kids,” Stubbs said. “The educational part of it is super-important. Also, I was a kid once and it was important for me to have a community. I had great coaches. I had the opportunity these kids get as well, which is so important for the young kids to have a future. The community of sports is invaluable for kids.”