For Orange Lutheran tennis player Jacob Eusebio, his love for the sport is rooted in much more than just the game itself.
Eusebio, a rising junior and singles player for the Lancers, comes from a family that plays tennis. So it was no surprise when he picked up a racquet four years ago and began to take lessons. The surprising part was when his younger brother, Evan, who is on the autism spectrum, decided to join him on the court. The bond the brothers share through tennis has become unbreakable.
“The second he walked onto the court, he absolutely loved it,” says Eusebio. “And that’s what solidified my connection to tennis because it’s something my brother and I can do together.”
Playing tennis alongside his brother led Eusebio to think broader about how he could use the sport to support the special needs community. He conceived the idea of a tennis camp, where campers would work one-on-one alongside volunteer mentors to share new experiences.
“I thought of the idea of something along the lines of a tennis camp for special needs children,” says Eusebio, “because that’s what helped my brother and I connect.”
He enlisted the help of two fellow tennis players and longtime friends, Lancer rising junior Natalie Rodriguez and Servite High School rising junior Andy Loughran, in developing the logistics, curriculum, and details of the camp.
“I know that both Natalie and Andy love tennis, and both have helped out with the special needs community,” says Eusebio. “So I thought, why not? Let’s bring the three of us together and see what can happen.”
Eusebio, Rodriguez and Loughran began brainstorming ideas for the camp last fall, and earlier this year, their concept was accepted into the Dragon Kim Fellowship, a program under the Dragon Kim Foundation (dragonkimfoundation.org) that provided $5000 for the student athletes to see their idea into fruition.
Their mission of creating a place where their love for tennis can be used to make a difference in the lives of special needs children starts with the name they chose for their nonprofit organization – Serving Advantage.
“In tennis, when you are serving, you have the advantage of winning the game,” says Rodriguez. “So in that way, we played with the words a little bit. We want to ‘serve an advantage’ to the special needs community with this tennis camp by helping them with social skills and also spreading awareness for the special needs community to our volunteers.”
Months of work by the three have gone into developing a camp format that would pair campers ages 8 to 13 one-to-one with local high school tennis player volunteers. These “doubles partners” will serve not only as mentors to the campers but will assist in fostering “social skills and connections in a safe, positive environment.”
Serving Advantage spread the word about their adaptive tennis camp to the special needs community by partnering with local therapy centers and tennis shops. Designed for 10 in-person campers, registration for the camp reached capacity with a waiting list.
Due to concerns centered around COVID-19, the co-founders made the tough decision to move the in-person camp scheduled to be held July 20-24 at The Anaheim Tennis and Pickleball Center to an online format.
“It’s a little disappointing, but we are excited about it because we do feel we’ve put together a fun program,” says Eusebio.
Beginning Monday, July 20, the Zoom-based camp will be delivered with a two-fold approach, starting each day with a tennis exercise/fitness class that works on skills such as hand-eye coordination and introduces different tennis strokes.
Then after a lunch break, the camp will transition into a tennis “team party”, where the three co-founders will take the campers on a virtual trip to the location of each of the four major Grand Slam tennis tournaments – the Australian Open held in Melbourne, Australia, the French Open/Roland-Garros held in Paris, France, Wimbledon held in London, United Kingdom, and the US Open held in New York City.
“I think this will be a great platform in order to provide these campers the opportunity to grow with their social skills,” says Loughran.
With the camp moving online, this gives the opportunity for more campers to attend, and Serving Advantage plans to open registration to their current waiting list. As a support to the campers and their families, therapists from Creative Solutions for Hope, a local therapy center, will be available via telehealth during the Zoom sessions.
The camp will culminate on Friday, July 24, with a drive-by celebration at The Anaheim Tennis and Pickleball Center where the campers will receive a certificate and celebrate their participation and completion of the camp.
Future plans for Serving Advantage include continuing to offer these week-long camps, as well as clinics, and possibly introducing the format to special education PE programs at local schools as a way of bringing their efforts to a wider community.
Eusebio, Rodriguez and Loughran all agree that the amount of work that goes into planning an event of this kind has definitely been eye-opening for them. They have learned what it means to be a coach and how that differs from being a player. And they have remained adaptable and flexible in our ever-changing environment.
But despite the challenges they have faced in launching their first camp, these three friends are excited to make an impact in a community that is close to their hearts.
“When I was growing up, I always had a hard time finding a way to connect with [my brother],” says Eusebio. “It was something I really struggled to understand. Tennis [has become] a really fun way for my brother and I to find common ground and connect.”
For more information about Serving Advantage, visit their website at serving-advantage.com or check them out on Instagram @serving.advantage. You can also watch a promotional video about Serving Advantage HERE.
Photo (from the left): Natalie Rodriguez, Andy Loughran, Jacob Eusebio