I was introduced to tennis when I was about seven years old and it’s been a part of my life ever since. 

To keep things short, tennis has been the vehicle for me to explore the world, create new connections, and grow into the human I am today. I’ve always known that I wanted to give back to the sport that has given me so much and after four years at St. Edward’s University and a year of completing a masters at University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, it felt right to be a part of Tennis for America.

One of my biggest goals is to create a non-profit back home in South Texas and ultimately make tennis more accessible to the community in terms of equipment, tournaments, and training. I thought Tennis for America would be a great opportunity for me to gain more hands-on experience from organizations that have a similar mission.

I’m about 8 months into my year of service at the Inspiring Children Foundation and have a flexible role in which I spend half my time at the foundation office and the other half at the partnering tennis academy, No Quit.

The Foundation focuses on empowering youth through mental health, mentoring, sports, and education, so I spend a lot of time with kids that are in both the tennis academy and leadership program at the foundation as well as kids that are just in the leadership program.

A typical day for me looks like waking up between 7-7:30 am and starting the day off with a run or workout with a few of the “interns” (kids in the foundation) as a way of establishing healthy habits and strong morning routines together.

Some of the staff, including myself, live in houses with the interns provided by the foundation and we ensure everything is running smoothly and assist with transportation to the office, school, and tennis courts.

After the run, we all get ready, eat breakfast, prepare lunch, and head over to the office around 10am. One perk is that the houses, office, and tennis courts are all a couple blocks away from each other.

I am at the office from 10:00am-4:15pm usually working on a variety of projects. If there is an event coming up, such as a local USTA tournament, partner/community event, or foundation retreat, a lot of my tasks involve the entire process from preparation, set up, and execution.

If there are no major events scheduled, I spend a lot of time helping interns with their personal projects, fundraising for the foundation at a local farmers market, accounting and analysis, and communicating with possible collaborators.

The foundation is unique in that it is run by the youth with an emphasis on mindfulness, holistic living, and project-driven learning.

One of the reasons I chose this site was because of the holistic approach to developing youth.

I think tennis is a great tool to learn valuable life lessons and adding the other pillars on top, creates the ultimate environment for youth to succeed in whatever they choose to do. If a student has a passion that they want to build out into something larger, they can create a business plan and run it by the staff.

Once it is accepted, the student takes full initiative into building their project out and the foundation gives them opportunities to learn new entrepreneurial skills and helps fund the entire process.

I’m a mentor to a lot of the youth I spend time with, but I learn and grow a lot from them as well in this positive environment. I wear a lot of different hats during my time here and it has truly been a one of a kind experience.

” I have enjoyed coaching a lot and watching young athletes grow and fall in love with the sport as i did at their age is a major full circle moment.”

– Nico Mercado (2021 Tennis for America VISTA Recipient)

At 4:30pm, I start coaching at No Quit for their orange ball and yellow ball III programs.

Yellow ball III is every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 4:30-7:00 pm and orange ball is every Tuesday, Friday 4:30-6:30pm, and Saturday 9-11am. Some days I also fit in private lessons either before or after practice.

Working with 7-13 year olds has taught me a lot about patience and flexibility in order to have a fun and productive environment where kids can learn the fundamentals of tennis.

At first, it was difficult to get accustomed to the high energy of the younger ones, but over time I’ve gotten to know each kid and understand how to control practice in an effective manner. I have enjoyed coaching a lot and watching young athletes grow and fall in love with the sport as I did at their age is a major full circle moment. 

I also started helping with junior team tennis and coaching a No Quit orange ball team with the kids I coach regularly. Leading a team and watching them have fun, compete hard, and learn valuable lessons in the process is what it is all about!

There have been various memorable events during my time with the Inspiring Children Foundation, but some that stand out would be The Wellness Experience (TWE) Festival in Cincinnati as well as the summer & winter retreats the foundation hosts in Malibu and Lake Las Vegas.

TWE is an annual wellness and musical festival run by Kroger and Grammy-nominated song-writer Jewel with the goal of bringing physical, emotional, and mental wellness resources to the community.

For the event, staff and interns were in charge of marketing and outreach to hundreds of local businesses and organizations to collaborate with the event.

We then flew out to Cincinnati and helped manage the various festival stages. I was part of the stage set up and break down for the concert portion of the festival and it was a cool hands-on learning experience that made me appreciate the amount of work and communication needed in order to run a successful event.

During breaks, I was also able to sit in on mental health panels, experience the festival, and eat high quality healthy foods with fellow staff and interns. An experience for the books for sure! 

The summer and winter retreats run by the foundation are one of a kind in which current members, alumni, and supporters all gather to reset, reflect, grow, and have meaningful connections with each other in a restorative setting.

It’s a unique experience where alumni are able to come back and share valuable advice to the next generation and current interns.

From the two, my favorite has been the summer retreat out in Malibu.

For a week, we camped at a farm owned by the founder of the local Vegas Intuitive Forager Farmers Market we help out at and supporter of the foundation, Kerry Clasby.

During the week, we walked to the beach multiple times, played sports, practiced yoga, learned about organic farming techniques and sustainability, ate organic fresh meals, reflected on the year, and had deep, meaningful conversations.

The highlight is definitely the conversations and connections shared in a positive open space.

Before starting my year of service, I had never been a part of anything like this and it was great to see how close everyone was with each other. The community they have here is one of a kind and the youth truly learn a lot about themselves and grow throughout the entire year. 

I am grateful for the experience and growth I’ve had so far with Tennis for America and  the Inspiring Children Foundation and looking forward to what the rest of my year of service will bring. 

If you would like more information about the Tennis For America Year of Service program please visit www.tennisforamerica.com or contact ITA, COO, David Mullins ([email protected])

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