I’m not a stranger to year-long service programs, so joining AmeriCorps wasn’t a question for me. After finishing undergrad, I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, resettling refugees in Atlanta, GA. Now preparing to finish a master’s degree, Tennis for America and the AmeriCorps VISTA program have given me another opportunity to take a deep dive into the important work of serving migrants and refugees.

As a Tennis for America fellow, I serve with the Border Youth Tennis Exchange, or BYTE. BYTE is unique because it operates in both the San Francisco Bay Area and at the US/Mexico border. Its specialty is providing locked facility programming to vulnerable individuals and families being impacted by migration, child welfare placements, and juvenile and adult incarceration. My interest in BYTE grew from its focus on sport for healing, sport for justice, and sport for humanitarian assistance. I support all BYTE programs by contributing to general operations and program oversight, as well as working directly in its Bay Area operations. Specifically, I create and deliver content for BYTE’s international high school exchange and immersion program, and I support its prison-based work at San Quentin State Prison and San Francisco Juvenile Hall.

BYTE was founded in 2015. I was drawn to its binational work in the non-profit sector and the fact that it serves permanent resident and displaced populations on both sides of the Nogales-Sonora border. I admired how BYTE uses sport to support community development
and to provide free, high-quality out-of-school resources to families and youth with little access to these services. From tennis to dance to yoga, BYTE’s impact comes from deep curriculums that cater to each community that it serves.

A primary project I worked on this year was the Bay-to-Border immersion program. Beginning in Fall of 2022, BYTE recruited 3 cohorts of high school students; each from San Francisco, Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico. We had monthly meetings during the Winter in the
lead-up to an immersion visit to the border this Spring. I developed the content to introduce the Bay Area cohort to BYTE’s work, the realities of migration and life in the borderlands, and some of the ways in which BYTE’s work interacts with mental health and public health sectors. I also helped teach short courses on 10-under tennis instruction and trauma-informed community coaching. This last piece was extremely important to ensure the high school tennis players were comfortable and respectful entering dynamic landscapes with potentially vulnerable student-athlete populations. Together, we shared 3 full days of tennis, dance, art, and volunteering with BYTE’s programs. The most impactful piece was seeing the 3 cohorts meet finally and interact after months of virtual exchange.

Adrian and the BYTE team posing with all three high school cohorts in Nogales during the Bay-to-Border Exchange visit: April 2023.

While I am located in the Bay Area, I’ve enjoyed spreading BYTE’s work to new communities, particularly here in San Francisco. Aiming to help expand its work to marginalized communities in California, I’ve been eager to be a part of building new partnerships such as the Edgewood Center for Children and Families. Edgewood serves children and youth in crisis, both through in-patient and outpatient resources. Coach Charlie and I hosted a 6-week pilot at their facility in the Fall. It was incredible to see how engaging sports and tennis can be and the capacity for healing and play it can inspire in non-traditional spaces.

Overall, working as a Tennis for America fellow has provided me with immense opportunities for personal and professional growth. I’ve learned that while the border region has its challenges, BYTE’s work brings great joy to these spaces and the families it works with. I’m grateful to the BYTE team and to both Tennis for America and AmeriCorps VISTA for facilitating this impactful year. I look forward to seeing what’s in store next.

Adrian after playing tennis with BYTE’s second T4A fellow, Zeena Khazendar, and Executive Director, Charlie Cutler.

About Adrian:

As a first generation American born and raised in New York, Adrian has always been passionate about immigration. After completing a Bachelors in Counseling and Human Services at The University of Scranton, Adrian went on to work in social services with refugees and foster care youth. Adrian has assisted newly resettled refugees as a caseworker at Catholic Charities in Atlanta, GA. She has also worked in higher education coordinating international immersions and study abroad programming in both Bologna, Italy and San Francisco, CA. At present, Adrian is preparing to graduate with her Masters in International Studies from the University of San Francisco. Through her research, Adrian focuses on how the quality of reception services can be improved to better assist newly arrived refugees and migrants in the United States.

In working as an AmeriCorps VISTA, Adrian values the opportunity to support BYTE in providing youth with extracurricular and educational programming. Adrian believes that opportunities such as these assist youth development in ways that only hands-on learning and activities can foster. Adrian is grateful to be serving with BYTE this year, and excited to get to know the communities in Nogales through this energizing and enriching work.

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