Tennis Family Combines
Vacation With Service
James Maimonis, Manager, Media & Communications | March 19, 2019
LYNNFIELD, MA- Jennifer Riester, of Lynnfield, MA, is the top-ranked USTA New England junior in the Girls’ 16s division and has achieved a high of No. 14 in the country (at the time of the interview). The high school freshman, who attends Laurel Springs online school, trains at the Manchester Academy of Tennis (MAC) and competes at tournaments nationally and internationally. Tennis is her passion, and it is something she has dedicated her life so far to.
However, tennis is not the only thing that defines Riester. Her desire to help people, primarily kids, is equally, if not more admirable than her work on the court.
Since the age of nine, Riester has been involved with the organization, Tennis Without Borders, which provides children in developing countries the opportunity to play and enjoy tennis. ADVERTISEMENT She has held numerous fundraisers equipment drives to benefit children in both Africa and South America.
Her mentor through the program and family friend, Cinda Holbach, has taken nine trips to Africa. There, she works with the kids, transports equipment and puts a smile on everyone’s face. Since hearing stories of Holbach’s adventures, traveling internationally to work with children has become a dream of Riester’s. And this past February school vacation, she made that dream a reality.
Holbach had a trip planned to Cali, Colombia, to visit the children of the Raul Ordonez foundation, and that meant the perfect opportunity for Riester, and family, to turn it into a trip of their own.
And this wasn’t any old trip for Riester. This rare opportunity to travel to Colombia meant meeting a legend, seeing her mother’s hometown for the first time, making a lifetime of memories and building unbreakable bonds.
Riester’s mother, Barbara, grew up in Cali, and for the first time since they were babies, Riester and brother Carleton (17), had the chance to see how she spent her early years.
While much of the trip was spent exploring the area and playing tennis at Barbara’s hometown club, Club Campestre, the rest was spent volunteering.
Ten miles down the road, in Jamundi, is where the Raul Ordonez Foundation calls home. Cali native and legendary hitting partner of Andre Aggasi and many others at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Raul Ordonez, started the foundation in 2004 upon finding out about his ALS diagnosis. The foundation gives underserved kids a safe haven after school to learn and play tennis.
“It was such a warm community. All the parents of the kids were there and they were so inviting. Even though we were in a rough area, we didn’t even think about it because of the people around us,” Jenn said.
For about three hours in the afternoon, Jenn and Carleton hit, laughed and bonded with the kids, while Barbara filled in the gaps where there was a language barrier. They also brought racquets, shirts and accessories to hand out.
“The most important thing to us was creating a relationship with them. I was a little worried at first how they’d perceive us, being from America, but they were very appreciative and gave us hugs as soon as we got there,” Jenn said. “We’d run a drill, and our mom would translate the rules, but otherwise we were speaking broken Spanish with them. Carleton and I had to piece together sentences, but many of them were doing the same with English, so we had lots of laughs with that and it really strengthened our bond.”
“Raul was really the only other person there who understood English. Speaking by using his eyes, his wife translated for us how happy he was to be hearing the language again,” Barbara said. “Meeting someone as inspiring as Raul and understanding we were there to help his foundation, gave the trip an even more special meaning.”
In addition to tennis, Georgia Ahlers, who works with Holbach at the Central Lincoln County YMCA in Maine, led a variety of art sessions on the premises, which Carleton especially took an interest in. By the time the trip came to an end, the kids were handing them drawings to take with them.
“It really blew my mind, seeing Jenn and Carleton fit right in with the kids,” Barbara said. “Even with the language barrier, they created such a bond, and I think it will motivate them in any future endeavors. Something like this just makes you want to go back and do more things and help people.”
“This trip definitely impacted me,” Jenn said. “There is lots of need out there, and sometimes we get overwhelmed with trying to help the world, but seeing these kids and helping where we could, truly made a difference. There will always be people with more than you but always people with less as well, so you have to count your blessings and be grateful for what you have.”
To learn more about Tennis Without Borders, visit their website.