Armed with a dozen or so forms, a vision and a plan, in 2013, Sloane Stephens began to realize the dream that she started during kitchen chats and phone calls with her longtime best friend, and Sloane Stephens Foundation advisory board member, Lindsay Mulford.
The idea for the Sloane Stephens Foundation (SSF) started when the friends were around 19 years old and were looking for how they could impact their communities and eventually the world. The two quickly realized they could best effect change through tennis. Stephens and Mulford centered in on the reason they love the sport and from there the vision grew.
“The seed that was planted at that point was that the very first experience they both had in tennis was a really incredible experience,” Sloane’s mother Sybil Smith explained. ”They talked about how they wanted to create an organization or a program that would give kids – under-resourced kids, kids who wouldn’t typically be able to have a great first experience – they wanted to do something where the first experience could be great.”
The idea of making the first experience great is at the core of everything the Sloane Stephens Foundation does. SSF provides resources for children to work on more than just their tennis technique. The students who have participated in the Foundation’s programs learn sportsmanship, receive tutoring help – including for ACT and SAT prep courses – and gain confidence in their ability to tackle their goals and dreams.
In addition, the Sloane Stephens Foundation supports Compton Unified School District Junior Tennis Program, Fresno County Office of Education Junior Tennis Program, Soles4Souls, and Poverello House of Fresno, CA.
Early on in the Foundation’s existence, the Compton School District invited SSF to provide programming for their students during recess. In the first year, SSF served three schools. Smith and her friends would arrive during recess armed with some rackets and a bag of balls to play with the students during their recess.
When she was in town, Stephens would help with the recess program. At that time, she had not even won her first tournament, but the kids did not care. They knew that she would make tennis fun for them and that was all that mattered.
“Our program evolved from ‘Let’s introduce kids to tennis and see how it goes’ into ‘Wow. We’ve got a whole recess tennis program going and we have 500 kids going through our recess program from 8:30 am to 2 o’clock in the afternoon,’” Smith said.
The program has since evolved into an after-school tennis program, an expanded recess tennis program, and tennis on Saturdays. SSF has programming in 21 elementary schools and two high schools in the Compton area. The programming is now run largely by staff members who were a part of SSF’s recess tennis program or Saturday tennis.
Sloane Stephens Foundation is adamant that their staff understand their mission of not only teaching the game of tennis, but more importantly making sure the kids have fun.
Through their partnership with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Tennis For America national service program, SSF will receive help from three former college tennis players who understand the importance of making tennis fun. Natalia Munoz, Ivan Derrick, and Gianna Insogna began their year of service with Sloane Stephens Foundation on June 8th.
Long Beach State Women’s Tennis player Natalia Munoz will bring her experience running tennis camps in the Los Angeles area to the Foundation. The former DI athlete was a two-year captain of her program and was named to the Big West All-Conference First Team. She graduated with a degree in Film & Electronic Arts with an Emphasis on Writing.
Ivan Derrick grew up in London before playing at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Derrick interned at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy along with running tennis camps at USC and UCLA. The two-year team captain was an ITA Scholar-Athlete and a staff writer for Occidental’s award-winning student newspaper.
California native Gianna Insogna played at Fordham University in the Bronx where she served as the team captain for her program and was voted the MVP. Insogna graduated with a degree in Philosophy and a minor in Bioethics. She has devoted her time to volunteer work and research within the medical community.
The Tennis For America fellows are committed to coming alongside the Sloane Stephens Foundation to strengthen their programs and potentially broaden their reach. They will bring their experiences playing tennis to inspire the children SSF serves.
“We aren’t trying to grow the next champion,” Smith said. “We’re trying to grow a champion of life and we’re trying to change a generation.”