USTA Foundation partners with ESPN to revitalize YMCA in San Juan

Victoria Chiesa | September 19, 2021

Together with ESPN, local partners and international sport development organizations, the USTA Foundation assisted in the restoration and revitalization of the YMCA of San Juan over the last year, where thousands of Puerto Ricans will be able to get and stay active through tennis and other sports. Heavily damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2018, the 'Y', as its known to residents, the facility officially re-opened in a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 17, with Rio Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig on-hand to celebrate.


The virtual event featured remarks from stakeholders including Mabel Román Padró, executive director of the YMVCA of San Juan; Rosa María Martinez, executive director of the USTA Carribbean section and the Puerto Rican Tennis Association; and Freddy Rolón, vice president of talent acquisition at ESPN, on the facility's impact in the local community and included a special Q&A between Puig and two children from the PRTA's local National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapter.


The project is the 10th in ESPN's "Built to Play" series, which builds multifunctional sport spaces in areas where they can have the most impact in the interests of sustainability, employment and empowerment for young people. The locations are selected based on need, population and socioeconomic status, and the program has built facilities in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and India to date, with one to come in Nigeria later this year.


“When I won the gold medal back in 2016, I was so excited to see that the youth of Puerto Rico was starting to demand to play more tennis and that the sport really took traction in Puerto Rico. To be a part of this, and to be a part of this effort to restore the courts at the YMCA… it’s just huge,” Puig said.


“I hope that the youth coming up, the young kids, they don’t just see sport—and not just tennis—as something to win at, but as something that makes them happy, something that provides an outlet for them in stressful times. Especially now, with COVID, with having to learn online, with having to stay home so much, I think that sport is a really great way to get them outside, to alleviate some of that stress.


“Mental health is also a huge part of it. I feel like getting outside, running, connecting with friends and just having that sporting community can be absolutely incredible for a child’s development. Sport affords so many great opportunities, and not just by being a professional athlete. It opens so many doors for the future of a young child. The fact that the PRTA, ESPN, and the YMCA is doing this, it’s going to mean so much.”


The completion of the project represents the mission of the USTA Foundation in action: the national charitable arm of the USTA provides free and low-cost tennis and education programming to thousands of youths around the United States and its territories annually via more than 250 chapters in the NJTL network. The PRTA has had an affiliated NJTL chapter since 2001.

Photos courtesy of ESPN.

“Through the CTA, we have had access to many resources from the USTA, especially with the community and school programming,” Martinez said. “They’ve helped us to develop, promote and deliver recreational programs to communities and schools, prepare community leaders and PE teachers with basics in tennis and provide free tennis equipment for the programs… Also through the USTA, our prospective players and advanced players have had the opportunity to participate in training and development camps, among other opportunities.


“Being an NJTL chapter and working with the USTA Foundation has helped us in the development of our organization and our volunteers, as well as create partnerships such as the YMCA to impact kids that may not have had this opportunity before.”


In operation for more than a century, the YMCA of San Juan serves upwards of 5,000 people annually through programs aimed at infants, children, youth, adults, people with disabilities and the elderly. This is achieved through a variety of sport offerings, including tennis and soccer, and activities for different ages—namely, boys and girls aged 6 to 15 and their parents. Thanks to the initiatives of partner organizations love.fútbol and Coaches Across Continents, trained coaches are expected to deliver weekly sessions reaching at least 600 young people monthly in full compliance with COVID-19 restrictions over the next 12 months.


“Having the opportunity to bring tennis to public schools and community organizations has been a great experience because kids have the opportunity to a new sport,” added Martinez. “You can practice tennis anywhere and showing that to teachers, community leaders and kids opens the opportunity and reach for the sport.


“Having the collaboration from Monica Puig, and her being a role model for so many kids, has also grown more interest in the sport. Kids learn so much more when practicing sports, not only the techniques and skills but discipline, respect, sportsmanship, perseverance among other values that will help them through their lives.”

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