Ross School senior Spencer Kuzon has traversed the globe working on service learning projects and played countless games of tennis. When it came time to selecting a senior project theme, Kuzon blended his interests and created the Better Life Tennis Program, a project to provide gratis tennis lessons to local and economically disadvantaged youths. Kuzon explains to the Express why he loves the game of tennis, the reaction to his project from the community and the experience of watching President Barack Obama speak during the inauguration in Washington, D.C.
For your senior project at Ross School you created the Better Life Tennis Program. Could you explain what a senior project is and how you choose this particular one?
I have been playing varsity tennis since I was in eighth grade. I have been taking pro lessons since I was five years old. I grew to love the game and all that it entailed. During 11th grade, I made it to the state tournament, which is a huge thing for any tennis player. I was one of the best in my local area but I realized how good some of these other players are. It inspired me to try to share the gift of tennis with other people. Many people have never even experienced the game. Over the summer I donated my time to the Ross tennis camp. I was in charge of kids ages six through 11. Giving that gift was life changing. The look on their faces when they mastered a stroke was so fulfilling for me. I realized that I wanted to expand my focus to not only kids who could afford tennis lessons.
In the official Ross School description of the program, it says the project combines two of your passions: tennis and service learning. How have you personally cultivated these interests?
As a freshman I went to Costa Rica [on a school trip]. We spent the whole week building a school for a school that only had one classroom. They had to alternate the classes every 30 minutes. That opened my eyes to poverty. Since then, I’ve been to Ecuador to help a family build an aqueduct. I went to Egypt and Brazil. I’ve been all over the world doing community service. That is the backbone of my community service experience.
Tennis was something I loved doing and I thought about what I could do that would be meaningful. All the time Ross held fundraisers benefiting Africa and children in the Far East. I thought that I should start with the local community.
How have you emotionally benefited from tennis and how do you envision these tennis lessons positively impacting this group of children?
Tennis is the spirit of competition. I never had that until tennis. I feel I have become more conscious of how hard, how you really have to devote your life to a sport. It inspires you to have a passion for something and to focus on one thing. It helped me become more goal oriented.
In the broader sense when you learn a new stroke, or spin serve, or you practice, you have a sense that you are doing something fruitful. I hope to give the children, especially the ones who are lost, a sense of purpose.
Since October you have kept a blog about the progress of your senior project. In one entry you wrote that after meeting with your mentor and others you decided to create a subsidiary foundation under the Ross logo instead of creating your own foundation. Why did you decide to do this?
In the summer you chisel out what you want to do. I knew day one that I wanted to do something with tennis but I didn’t know how to integrate it with community service. When I got back to school I knew what I wanted to do. Establishing a 501(c)3 [or a legally recognized, tax exempt organization, corporation or association] takes a lot of work. That is what I originally wanted to do. But even with Ross Foundation it took them a year to gain that status. Realistically, I couldn’t complete that goal. The next best thing was to set up a subsidiary through Ross.
In order to provide free tennis lessons, you have had to fundraise and receive donations. Around how much are you looking to raise and what expenses will this sum cover?
All the money I have raised has been through private soliciting and is going to buy court time, pro time, apparel, shoes and food. I went to all these local places [pulls out a list including Conca D’oro, The American Hotel and Schiavoni’s Market]. Any surplus will go to sponsoring a few of the kids for a full summer of tennis lessons at Ross. Any surplus is going back to the kids.
I already have enough money to do everything but I don’t have enough to sponsor a kid for the summer or a year. The monetary figure [to cover the free lessons for 12 students] is $3,000. Ross is giving me a discount on the court time and I’m teaching as well with one other instructor. We will have 12 children, six boys and six girls, on only two courts.
You have been in contact with local school principals and social workers to attract students to the program. What has been the reaction like from the community?
Everyone has been really responsive especially Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor and Amagansett. They have been gung ho. Everyone has been really good. Schiavoni’s without a second thought gave me a case of Pellegrino. I can’t even thank these people enough. I want to have only 12 students and I have a list over 12. I still haven’t chosen which ones [will participate]. I have been focusing on the fundraiser and the lessons will start after the break.
On a side note, in 2009 you were nominated by your teachers to participate in the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference. You spent the weekend of the inauguration in Washington, D.C. Before you left you spoke with a local reporter about your hope to meet Barack Obama. Did you fulfill your wish and what was the atmosphere in the capital like during that time?
Yeah, I did. It was really magical to get to stand within 100 feet of Barack Obama. I can’t even express it in words what it was like to see him live.
Ross School will host a benefit for the Better Life Tennis Project on Saturday, November 14, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Ross School Tennis Center, 18 Goodfriend Drive, East Hampton.
The Better Life Tennis Program will be open to grades one through four. Up to 12 students can participate. Lessons will be held on Sundays from 1 to 2 p.m. starting in December at the Ross School Tennis Center. Dates of lessons are December 5, 12, 19, January 9, 16, 23, 30, and February 6 and 13.
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