Youth from the YWCA’s Summer Food Program are given tennis instruction on a recent Wednesday morning at the Van Wert County Foundation Tennis Complex. (DHI Media/Jim Cox)
Youth from the YWCA’s Summer Food Program are given tennis instruction on a recent Wednesday morning at the Van Wert County Foundation Tennis Complex. (DHI Media/Jim Cox)
By Jim Cox
DHI Media Correspondent
sports@timesbulletin.com

 VAN WERT — Many 10-to-15-year-old youth involved in the YWCA’s Summer Food Program have now become avid tennis players.
“On the first day I got started with the kids, the vast majority of them had not ever held a racquet,” said tennis director Kara Thomas. “At the end of the first session, the kids were so excited when they realized that they were able to come back to continue playing. I even had a few kids tell me they were going to ask their parents and/or siblings if they could come out and play, which ultimately was our number one goal. It’s been very exciting to see the improvement the kids have made. There’s a lot of potential in that group.”

 It all started when local tennis enthusiast Kim Purmort approached YWCA Summer Food Program supervisor Hannah Phlipot about the possibility of the United States Tennis Association getting involved. Purmort and many other members of the Van Wert County Tennis Association have conducted the USTA Youth Tennis Program every summer since 2011, so Purmort and Phlipot agreed that the youth in the Summer Food Program could benefit from similar activities.

 Purmort and YWCA Program Director Danni Chiles filled out the paperwork for a $500 USTA grant, which was approved. Thomas, who also directs the VWCTA summer tennis program, agreed to direct the new program.


Thomas, with the help of assistants Zach Wise, Jeremy Kline, Melissa Bloomfield and Paige Dunlap, conducts once-a-week two-hour sessions for four weeks, the last one on July 30. Approximately 35 youth from the Summer Food Program have been involved. About half of them participate in an hour of tennis activities at the Van Wert County Foundation Tennis Complex, while the other half participates in other supervised activities on nearby fields. The two groups then switch during the second hour.

 “The goals of the tennis from the Summer Food Program standpoint are to provide an opportunity for our kids to experience the sport, learn something new, and provide physical activity and movement,” said Phlipot. “I think the tennis has been extremely successful. The kids in our food program have been very excited about going to the tennis courts each week. This program allows them exposure to something they may not have had otherwise.”

 “As soon as the first week ended, I couldn’t wait to tell the people who work alongside me how incredibly happy I was to work with this program,” added Thomas. “I knew it had been successful the first day when I had numerous kids come up and thank me without having been told to by an adult. I measure success by the happiness of the children involved in the program, and so far, it has been a major success.”