By Douglas Feiden
The eighth-grade Pierson Middle School student, a Sagaponack resident and gifted tennis player with a passion for community service, talks about his plan to build a youth tennis court at the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, and how he’ll meet his goal of raising up to $50,000.
You’re a 14-year-old, A-student who loves math and tennis. Why did you set up the Bridgehampton Youth Tennis Project, a nonprofit, to build a tennis court for underprivileged kids?
I wanted to find a way to use my passion, and what I love most, in a way that could benefit others. I discovered that by building a tennis court at the BHCCC, I could share the same benefits tennis has given me with underprivileged kids in my community — and have a lot of fun in the process by playing tennis.
Why does tennis matter and what does it teach you?
Tennis is a sport that’s helped me in many aspects of life. It’s made me a better person physically and emotionally. My focus, motivation and mental endurance have increased tremendously, and it contributes to my ability to be a very ambitious student. Dealing with adversity and loss has made me a more humble individual. Most importantly, the sport has taught me that with hard work, comes great reward.
And what could children from low-income families derive from the game?
I think anyone who practices tennis can acquire these same benefits, and that’s why I want to play with underprivileged kids.
Not every eighth-grader sets out to raise some $50,000 for a nonprofit cause: Do you approach businesses? Philanthropists? How do you begin?
I have started by reaching out to private individuals. This includes friends, family and neighbors. I’ve also sent solicitations to local groups and businesses like East Hampton Rotary, Bridgehampton Lions Club, Freemasons of Southampton and the Bridgehampton National Bank. Hopefully, we’ll get a big chunk of change from the bank…. I’ve also reached out the U.S. Tennis Association for funding, and they’ve expressed interest.
Have you banked any money yet?
I sent out my first round of solicitations in late January, and so far, have raised $8,000. Many people have also pledged support. The next few weeks will be critical since the USTA won’t provide much financial support unless the community expresses interest.
When do you hope to get the court built, open and running?
I plan to finish construction by May, so that we can have a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the Memorial Day weekend. This means construction would have to start in early April.
Would-be bidders aren’t often approached by middle-school students. How did you identify construction contractors and collect bids and how did they react?
I have identified contractors through friends, family, local tennis organizations and personal experiences. I’ve met with four contractors, and received three bids so far. They’ve all been very supportive and helpful in what I’m trying to accomplish.
Free tennis instruction will be provided once the court is built. Will you be giving lessons?
With the help of some tennis friends, I’ll be working with the 5-to-8-year-olds who attend the BHCCC’s summer program. There are approximately 40 kids in that age group, and I plan to break this number into small groups and teach in half-hour sessions.
How do you find the time for such an ambitious project?
Well, it’s very challenging to carve out time to work on the project and at the same time, keep up with schoolwork and tennis. I’m usually at the Ross School three days a week from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., playing tennis and participating in the after-school program. I often use time on weekends and sometimes an hour or two on weekdays to work on the project.
Where did your passion for the game came from? What drives you?
I started playing when I was 5, but I really fell in love with it for the first time when I was about 9 or 10 and experienced the feeling of winning and success. Over time, I just fell in love with it more and more. It’s a good feeling to know that when you’ve tried so hard, your hard work has paid off.