Living the Dream:
How Tennis is Helping Underserved Youth in Michigan
“When was the last time you ate?”
“Three days ago.”
Steve Mazur could not believe his ears when the young boy responded to a question to which most individuals do not give a second thought. As he began to survey the rest of the children in the tennis class, Mazur knew that something had to be done for these kids.
In that moment, the partnership with the Dream Center of Pontiac, Michigan was born. It was Bill Brown, Mazur's great friend, that made the introduction to the Dream Center so that these two men together could grow their community outreach mission.
“What really started all of this was that moment,” said Mazur. “I can’t imagine a child not eating, but more importantly, I can’t imagine what a mom feels like when she can’t even feed her own children.
“So, the fuse was lit.” Steve and Bill’s hearts have been on fire for these kids ever since.ADVERTISEMENT
Mazur began playing tennis in his later adult years, but immediately had an appreciation for the sport, thanks to his wife’s encouragement. When the club they frequented went bankrupt, Mazur thought he could acquire the facility and convert it into a medical building. But his wife begged him to think about the positive impact tennis had on the community, including their family. So, tennis stayed, and eleven years later, the Dream Center partnership began.
Mazur was not successful in getting the Dream Center partnership up and running for several years, however. Finally, a year ago, the piece of the puzzle the Dream Center Partnership was missing came into the picture in the form of tennis professional Don Egler.
Egler had spent his entire life teaching tennis, even turning down a Fortune 500 company job opportunity to stick with the sport he loved. It was almost fate, then, when Egler left the country club where he had taught for 19 years to join Mazur’s team.
Now, with the foundation of tennis in the hands of an enthused and extremely dedicated Egler, Mazur was able to work with the staff at the Dream Center to implement tutoring and most importantly, regular meals for tennis students.
For the last several years, due to the dedication and devotion of Molly Clarkson and Ellie Schupra, the Dream Center of Pontiac has taken in underserved adults and youth to meet urgent needs and try to give them a place to safely grow and hopefully, thrive. Last spring, the center opened its doors for 20 children and focused on teaching them the sport of tennis, providing literacy training, and delivering two additional meals each session.
During a typical afternoon session for these kids at the Dream Center, children will be broken into two groups. The first will work with tutors and eat a snack, while the other group will participate in tennis lessons, followed by switching activities. Finally, the entire group will come together as one for a home-cooked dinner.
“Our Dream Center program isn’t just about giving them free stuff,” said Egler. “It’s not just about tennis, it’s about teaching them structure, which they can bring back to their families.”
Mazur has made a point to fill the Dream Center program with his positive and enthusiastic attitude which influences the children in a positive way, something of which he is incredibly proud.
“With time, dedication and coaching, these kids can play just as well as any other kid who have had private lessons or were involved in a junior program,” said Mazur.
Already in 2019, Mazur and his team have been able to provide full scholarships to nine children from the Dream Center program to play for free in his Bloomfield Tennis Club’s junior winter program, which began in September. With assistance from the Southeastern Michigan District of the USTA/Midwest Section and Net Generation, these children enjoy free equipment for their tennis needs, such as tennis shoes, clothes and racquets.
While the Dream Center and its partnership with Mazur and his team has provided much for these children, there is still a long way to go. Mazur says that he hopes to reach even more children next year and provide more scholarships along the way.
In addition to growing the Dream Center Sports program, Brown and Mazur are also working with Schupra on the Dream Center’s goal to provide housing for families to allow the children to flourish in clean and safe living conditions and to continue the healthy lifestyle that tennis provides to so many of us.
Next year, Mazur’s team expects to add soccer to the Dream Center curriculum as an alternative to tennis. Egler is a firm believer that the ability to try new and exciting sports in a safe environment may just be what these children need to succeed.
“As many kids as Steve [Mazur] can help, he is going to try to help,” said Egler. “This has been a really rewarding experience for me to work with these kids and with Steve who is totally committed to helping them succeed.”
From an idea to a reality, Mazur and his team have made a real difference in the lives of these children. But for Mazur, the real credit goes to his team who work tirelessly to serve the children, creating opportunities of which they never dreamed.
“My facilities are going to be open, and I’m going to continue to serve, and my company is going to continue to serve the underserved. But I need my team because I can’t do it by myself. We all believe that opportunity with effort will lead to success.”