By Emily Lombardi

I snooze my alarm at 5:15am, but I’m shortly out the door of my Midtown apartment by 5:30am. I ride the subway starting on 33rd Street one stop to 42nd Street, then I switch to the 4 train. I ride along for 14 stops, then switch to the 2 train and ride for 7 more stops. I am surrounded by the majority of the working class. I look down and see steel toe boots covered in paint splatters, tool belts attached to hard hats, and comfortable clogs filled by nurses’ feet. The train car is filled with noise, all from the train tracks and engine, as everyone in it is silent.

Lombardi during her playing days at Fairfield University. Photo provided by Lombardi.

I look around me and I see more diversity around me than I’ve ever seen in my short 22 years. I grew up in the middle class from a small town in Southern Illinois, where the diversity levels were less than average, then I attended college 1,016 miles away at a primarily white institution in Connecticut, so to say my experience with diversity was lacking is an underestimate. I am half Chinese and half Caucasian, just diverse enough to fit into that subway car and just white enough to fit into other settings. Now, to mention race or economic situation is not the main point of this article, but I do think it is important to mention as today it is such an influential topic and is such an important aspect of the work we do with Tennis for America.

I have now been a VISTA Fellow in Tennis for America for 10 months, 2 more months until my year of service is completed, and I have experienced so many more things at NYJTL (New York Junior Tennis & Learning) than I thought I would these past 10 months. One of my duties has included being a receptionist at the front desk of Cary Leeds Tennis Center in the Bronx, where I was headed in my narrative above. I also lead one of NYJTL’s ACES After School Programs over Zoom and in person at an elementary school in Brooklyn. For the ACES program I started on Zoom, I was happily surprised at these kids’ willingness to do crunches and burpees in front of a computer screen. The kids call me Miss Emily or Miss Tennis Teacher and I am always excited to hear them yell “Miss Emily, Miss Emily!” as I walk through the door to see their smiling little faces. They’re second and third graders and I teach them tennis, life skills, and about keeping their bodies healthy through exercise and nutritious eating.

Lombardi with NYJTL students. Photo provided by Lombardi.

I also helped start, in collaboration with board members and my fellow VISTA Justin, a diversity board initiative to broaden the scope of diversity at NYJTL. I have also curated exercise plans and videos to send to other site directors for their kids to take part in. In addition to these things, I have also taught a Community Tennis Program on Friday nights for high schoolers looking to play tennis more seriously. Some of these kids have even put me as references for job and college applications, making me feel that I’m actually making a real difference with some of these kid’s futures. 

I know I have only two months of my fellowship left but, if it’s anything like the past 10 months then it will be filled with unknown twists and turns, new experiences, and will broaden my knowledge of the world around me. Even if my fellowship ended today, I would still be happy with the slight impact I made on the communities around me and the major impact that they had on me.

Interested in becoming a Tennis For America fellow? Applications are open until May 30, 2021. Learn more about the application process.

The ITA’s national service program Tennis For America invests in college tennis graduates in order to fight inequality through tennis. Learn how you can support Tennis For America.


Learn more about the experiences of Tennis For America Fellows!

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