Since 1997, NNYOTP and founder Ed Feinhandler have supplied area youth with the opportunity to learn a new sport. Feinhandler, who also serves as the program’s tennis instructor, said it is a chance for the kids to create belief in their selves.
“The whole of it is self-confidence building and the ability to pick up something that they never thought in their lives that they would ever do and all of a sudden they start getting to play,” Feinhandler said. “I tell them that they can’t make a mistake on those courts until they’ve hit 10 million balls, which means they’ll be 90 years old before they can make a mistake. The key is to bring it down to the simplest terms. When people ask me if they can take tennis, I ask them if they can count to four because there is four steps to the forehand, four steps to the backhand. Anyone can do it.”
Now in its 16th summer, the program first began when Feinhandler had a change in his life.
“I got this premonition. I asked God ‘What can I do to get even with you?’ because I was living this fun, crazy life. One of the premonitions I had was to give free tennis lessons to underprivileged kids. I had three tennis racquets of my own and I thought ‘How am I supposed to do this?’ so I contacted all the tennis racquet companies to see if they would help me. I got a hold of Prince Sports, Inc. in New Jersey and they have been sending me racquets for the whole 16 years.”
Feinhandler, a disabled American veteran, coached tennis and basketball at Sparks High up until 2005. Now, he spends his time helping less fortunate kids.
“Any kid that comes across my path, I try to help,” Feinhandler said. “One important thing is to keep them busy during the summer, but while I was starting classes I found out that they were lacking a ton of stuff. They don’t eat food like we normally would. You know how you’re supposed to get three meals a day, well some of them would only get one. They’d get a meal at noon and that was the end of it. Tennis gives them something to look forward to and is something that they would normally never have the opportunity to do. They would never in their lives think of playing tennis. I just try to keep my lessons in a positive mode and I just keep doing it as long as I have the energy.”
Free tennis lessons are not the only thing offered by the NNYOTP. With a large amount of help from businesses through donations to the program, kids are provided rides and food as well as all of the equipment necessary to play, along with water and sunscreen at the lessons.
“It’s great to see the kids come through and go on to play in high school and graduate,” Feinhandler said. “I couldn’t do any of this without all the great businesses that help out. It’s amazing. I had a little girl that graduated from Spanish Springs High School. When I had her, she was in third or fourth grade and she told me she couldn’t do it and then she wound up playing for Spanish Springs. That kind of stuff is fun.
“When they graduate from high school or college and they invite me, it’s like I’ve become a part of their family and that is fabulous to watch them become successful. That stuff is just fabulous. The best feeling in the world is seeing how many people in your life that can say thank you to you and you don’t know them. That’s what I try to do. You have to keep your eyes open to help and everybody has opportunities to do this.”