Local tennis players teamed up to make sure disadvantaged children in our community had a happy holiday season
Nearly every Wednesday morning, from September through April, hundreds of local women take to the courts to compete in the WAIT (Women’s Amateur Invitational Tennis) League at tennis facilities throughout the Central Florida area. They don their matching tennis uniforms and spend a few hours hitting forehands, backhands, serves, and volleys, all while enjoying the (mostly) beautiful Florida weather and some friendly competition. But tennis isn’t the only racket for these women. They have also proven to be champions when it comes to helping others through a variety of charitable causes, and this past holiday season, the WAIT women truly rose to the occasion.
WAIT League members and others in the tennis community donated more than $5,000 in gift cards and other contributions during an inaugural initiative called Hands Across the Net. The fundraiser supported Oviedo’s Helpful Hands, Inc., a nonprofit organization that enhances the quality of life for children and families in need. Helpful Hands volunteers used the gift cards and donations to purchase Christmas presents for more than 100 local families, who picked up their gifts at a December reception at the COPS Center in the Oviedo Mall.
“These women really love to serve,” says WAIT League president Carla Bray, pun intended. “We have a lot to be thankful for, and the fact that we can give to others and make a difference in their lives... that means a lot. The bottom line is, it’s not about hitting balls across the net and winning trophies. It’s about doing what we can to help others in our community.”
Carla’s team, Red Bug Serves You Right, was among 30 teams that participated in the fundraiser. The initial idea came from the Sanlando Hope team, which includes Mary Pando, publisher of Oviedo-Winter Springs Life, who is a board member for Helpful Hands. The idea for the Hands Across the Net initiative was presented to WAIT League board members during their preseason meeting this past summer.
“I thought it was a great idea,” says Carla, who has been actively involved in charitable causes for years. “But I couldn’t push it on other teams; the league had to buy into it to truly make a difference. And they did.”
The league notified team captains and advertised Hands Across the Net on WAIT’s website and Facebook page.
“We were asked to participate, and our players were 100-percent on board,” says Val Svantesson, a Sanlando Hope team member and owner of E-Tennis pro shop. “At E-Tennis, we like to support the community through the sport of tennis and help in any way we can, and this tied in well with the things we like to do.”
Val decided to tie-in the Hands Across the Net initiative with a Team Uniform Appreciation Night that E-Tennis hosted in the fall. After hearing about the fundraiser, Val purchased $300 worth of gift cards at Target and told her guests that if they bought a gift card to donate to Helpful Hands, the folks at E-Tennis would match the gift.
As dozens of tennis players enjoyed the night of food, wine, giveaways, and raffles, they also began snatching up the gift cards for a good cause.
“We sold out all $300 worth of giftcards,” Val says. “If we had more, I’m sure we would’ve sold more.”
Carla was pleasantly surprised by the generosity displayed by her fellow WAIT League players, especially considering that Hands Across the Net was a first-time fundraiser and wasn’t mandatory.
“For the first year, I wasn’t sure what the response would be,” Carla says. “I think it was truly amazing that we were able to raise almost $5,000, and I think it will be even better next year.”
With so many caring players in the WAIT League, as well as local businesses like E-Tennis on board, Hands Across the Net will likely continue to be a smash hit for Helpful Hands and the Central Florida community in the years to come.
“Our team wanted to do something for those in need this holiday season, and the response was incredible,” Mary says. “I know there were a lot of happy faces on Christmas morning for these needy kids from local schools. It really felt great to see our league band together for such a great cause.”
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