For two Indian-American teens, Amani Shah 16 and Ayanna Shah 14, tennis has been such a big part of their lives that they wanted to share it with kids around the United States who may not have the opportunity or the means to pursue this sport.
Within barely two years, starting in February 2019, when they established a new charity called Second Serve in Southern California, they have reached out to kids in other countries as well to serve underprivileged youth in Uganda, which was a first breakthrough in Africa, Mexico, Argentina, India, and possibly Zimbabwe, with more and more interested groups in other countries, Amani Shah told News India Times.
The goal is to send tennis equipment and other accessories that may not be new, but perfectly usable, to kids unable to buy the gear – hence ‘Second Serve’ – giving a second life to the paraphernalia needed to play the game, punning with the importance of the critical second serve in the game of tennis.
Asked how they came up with the creative name, Amani Shah gave credit to her father Dr. Saurabh Shah, an Ear, Nose, Throat specialist. “He’s good with coming up with such things,” she added.
The Shah girls are themeselves great players and coach others. In 2019, Amani Shah placed in the Top Ten in the Sixteen and Under category in Southern California, and ended up among the Top 80 nationwide in her age division.
“Players go through rackets, shoes etc. very quickly, and there’s nothing really wrong with these. But they lie around not used and still in great condition,” Amani Shah said.
Their approach is simple and effective. Today, they have a team of 14 youth in different parts of the country to collect and redistribute gently used tennis rackets, shoes, bags, water bottles and other equipment to underserved communities. They began by taking this equipment from country clubs and tournament players and giving to National Junior Tennis League (NJTL) programs for children.
The NJTL was formed for underprivileged kids to enter into tennis some 55 years ago by Arthur Ashe and Charlie Passarelli, according to a profile of Second Serve.
When the coronavirus pandemic shut things down, the Shah sisters had grown the Second Serve team to eight girls serving California, Texas and Utah NJTL sites as well as the SES tennis program in Mexico.
The pandemic shut down most tennis clubs and programs. For the girls in the Second Serve team however, it provided an opportunity to reflect on how to become more effective.
The team collectively launched an Instagram account @secondserveclub to share stories learned through tennis and reflect on their personal growth. The Second Serve team also started a Play it Forward mentorship program based on the Big Brother Big Sister model where the girls could mentor some of the less advantaged children through life, tennis, and school.
In the summer of 2020, a young 15 year old Ugandan boy named Ben Nteza stumbled upon the secondserve.club website. He had started a tennis program in Kygegwa on donated land with decades old rackets, and shoeless, yet joyful, children of his community joining in. Ben reached out to the Second Serve team for equipment donations.
That galvanized the Shah girls and the rest of the team. Mailing internationally was the biggest hurdle for the team, not least because of the cost of shipping. But the enterprising Second Serve team found a partner in Dry Creek Charity out of Utah, which agreed to help out with that. “And we are trying to find alternatives to UPS and Fedex. For Uganda we were able to find a local partner company at a third of the price,” says the savvy Amani Shah.
They sent Ben rackets, shoes, clothes, strings, and even Andre Agassi’s own travel bag.
“We’ve made a lot of connections in different countries now,” Amani Shah says. That’s through networking – ‘a very good friend’ or ‘one of my coaches.’ No option has been left unexplored. The group recently started a newsletter as well. If anything, the pandemic has energized Second Serve to find ways around obstacles. And they are media savvy to boot. Ayanna Shah sent the pictures
By October 2020, Second Serve has new partnerships with 16 schools in Uganda through the Kasiisi project. The organization also acquired a new partnership with the Sloan Stephens Foundation serving the children of Compton, California.
Second Serve has partnered with a wide range of organizations, from Pete Brown Tennis Academy in inner city Los Angeles, to Manav Sadhna’s new athletic program in Sabarmati in India
“So we are really growing and a lot of people are showing an interest in joining,” Amani Shah said.
The team is looking for committed high school youth throughout the states to apply as a local, regional, or state president. You can find out application details @secondserveclub on Instagram or on the website www.secondserve.club.