Ned Eames uses tennis to boost inner-city reading skills and graduation rates
Tennis helped Ned Eames thrive during his childhood – now he uses it to help Boston kids improve their reading skills and stay in school.
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Richard Wilson, part of the first school year Tenacity class in 1999, says he was touched that Eames "actually cared and thought that I could go to college, and thought that I could be a successful person, which is something I didn't hear much in my life." Mr. Wilson later volunteered at Tenacity for eight years because he felt that he owed so much to Eames.Skip to next paragraph
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"As I got older, he didn't just toss me to the curb," says Wilson, who will study communications this fall at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Eames, he says, showed him "that I can make it, and that there are opportunities out there."
Eames spent his early childhood in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Byfield, Mass., north of Boston. When he was 12, his father became a community organizer at a low-income housing project in Worcester, a blue-collar city west of Boston, and the family moved there.
"As a teenager in a family that was going through as much change as you can imagine," Eames says, "tennis became the one thing that I could really hang onto."
After college, he spent a short time playing minor-league tennis before eventually earning an MBA and starting a career as a management consultant.
But after eight years working in New York, he says, "This idea kept coming to me: tennis. And it was very disconcerting because there was nothing in the world of tennis that I knew that I wanted to do."
A friend urged him to visit the New York Junior Tennis League, which provides lessons to kids free of charge. He decided he wanted to start something similar back in Boston.
In Tenacity's first year 40 students participated in the school year program and 1,100 in the summer program. Today those numbers have more than quadrupled.
In the future, Tenacity plans to start workshops for elementary students and their parents and provide more guidance to high school graduates who are in post-secondary schools or the military.
But Eames says he doesn't want the program to grow too fast – or go nationwide – if it would mean sacrificing quality.
"We don't want to be selling our soul to have to raise the money we'd have to raise to go national," Eames says. "We'd just like to be focused right here."
• To learn more go to Tenacity.org.
• For more stories about people making a difference, click here.