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Nonprofit Serving Disadvantaged Youth to Receive USTA Missouri Valley Award
Ben Gildehaus had often felt there was a massive opportunity in the St. Louis area to teach tennis to underserved kids. As a longtime professional in the mental health field, Gildehaus had ambitions of utilizing the sport — Gildehaus played collegiately and has taught infrequently — as a vessel to mentoring in-need children as well as teaching them life skills.
Last summer in the thick of Covid-19, Gildehaus found himself with a bit more available time than usual. His wife encouraged him to give that tennis pipedream a shot. Gildehaus proceeded to pitch his idea to Terry Ward, general manager of Frontenac Racquet Club. Ward loved the concept and introduced Gildehaus to Paul Paige. Paige shared Gildehaus’s vision and even had previously run a similar program of his own.
The pair hit it off and decided to establish BreakPoint Youth Tennis Association, a subsidiary of the Triple A Youth Foundation. Since its inception in June 2020, BreakPoint has serviced about 130 kids with programs running seven days a week. The organization earned selection as the 2021 USTA Missouri Valley Outstanding Community Tennis Association.
“What I’m most proud of is we’re taking action,” Gildehaus said. “We’re not just talking. We’re actually providing real programs that are making a difference in the community. There’s a huge need. Especially in the city, but all over the county as well. There are families in need. Kids who desperately need youth development programming and opportunities to access those programs.”
Gildehaus — who works as executive director of program development while Paige is the CEO — said the mission of BreakPoint is to build self-confidence in disadvantaged youth. Tennis is the primary vehicle and BreakPoint also features a tennis/reading combo program. The organization is geared toward children, though Gildehaus noted BreakPoint is flexible and has had even 40-year-olds drop in to learn tennis.
Gildehaus hopes as the nonprofit evolves, BreakPoint could offer counseling services, mentoring and even employ social workers. He’d like to one day get referrals from mental health agencies for kids who have suffered trauma. The wide-ranging, all-encompassing model is a necessity, Gildehaus and Paige have discovered, as participating low-income families have wrap-around needs such as transportation or academic guidance.
“Tennis or any sport provides an opportunity for kids to really work through what they’ve been through, which is an important process,” Gildehaus said. “Tennis helps kids learn emotion regulation skills, develop body awareness and hand-eye coordination. Sort of gain a sense of control over their bodies, which is really helpful from a mental health standpoint sometimes.”
While BreakPoint is its own LLC, Gildehaus credited the Triple A Youth Foundation and its board members for their passion and support of the BreakPoint mission. Several volunteers have stepped up and chipped in, with Gildehaus spearheading assignments to ensure the organization’s programs have proper teaching coverage. There has been assistance from sponsors and facilities, with The Highlands Tennis Center acting as the flagship venue.
“Tennis is a wonderful sport. All you need is a racquet and a ball,” Gildehaus said. “Unfortunately, good, high-quality instruction has mostly been available in West County. It tends to be very expensive. Triple A Youth Foundation and BreakPoint, what we’re trying to do is provide an accessible program. Go to where the kids are and outreach them in their neighborhoods. That is our vision. We hope to expand and have multiple sites in the neighborhoods this coming summer.”
BreakPoint’s volunteers are trained via USTA’s Safe Play program. The organization was chosen as the tennis provider on a USTA Missouri Valley grant to resurface three courts at Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club and provide programming to the club’s members and City Academy students.
BreakPoint is one of eight USTA St. Louis organizations/individuals slated to receive an award at the 2021 USTA Missouri Valley Annual Conference. The awards celebration and Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place the afternoon of Saturday, December 4 in Olathe, Kansas. To purchase tickets to attend this event, click here.
“It’s just a high honor,” Gildehaus said. “Very validating of all the hard work everybody has put in and the team effort that’s led to where we are. Getting the organization started, getting everything in place, getting a website up, all the behind-the-scenes work the past year — it’s humbling to receive the recognition. We’ve only been in existence for a year. We’re just very proud and honored to receive the award.”
To view the full list of 2021 USTA Missouri Valley award winners, click here. To learn more about the BreakPoint Tennis & Life Skills Academy, click here. Gildehaus and Paige can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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