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History of Laureus with USTA/Midwest Tennis & Education Foundation

Who is Laureus USA?  

Laureus USA is a grant-making, nonprofit organization that supports growth and deepens the impact of programs that use sport for social change. We believe in the power of sport to change the world, as proclaimed by our founding patron Nelson Mandela:

Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. We galvanize our diverse range of partners, including nonprofits, athletes, schools, and corporations, around a shared vision of sport as a force for positive change. By supporting programs that directly serve youth, and driving collaboration between leaders from many sectors, we are able to advance our mission of to improve the lives of youth and unite communities through the power of sport.

Illinois R3 Program Background

 The Illinois 100th General Assembly passed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA) during the 2019 legislative session. Governor JB Pritzker signed CRTA into law on June 25, 2019. This Act created the Restore, Reinvest, and Renew (R3) program. Twenty-Five percent (25%) of adult-use cannabis state tax revenues will invest in addressing the harm caused to communities by economic disinvestment, violence, and the war on drugs. Per the statute, the funds appropriated for R3 grants shall address Five priority areas: economic development, violence prevention, youth development, reentry, and civil legal aid. In addition, the R3 funds must serve communities with the highest gun injury rates, unemployment, child poverty rates.


Announcement of Laureus Grant with MTEF 

Prepare to be inspired by the transformative power of sports and the profound impact of a remarkable partnership. Meet Laureus USA and the USTA/Midwest Tennis & Education Foundation (MTEF), two forces of change coming together to create a better future for youth in Illinois.  In the early months of 2023, Laureus USA embarked on a mission to support organizations that share a common vision: using sports as a catalyst for youth development and violence prevention. Their resolute dedication led to the awarding of grants to 41 exceptional organizations across Illinois, each one committed to making a difference in R3 zones—the very areas with the highest concentration of reported violence and child poverty throughout the state.    

The idea of restore, reinvest, and renew (R3) program has been unprecedented in Illinois. It has created a pathway to addressing decades of underinvestment and harm caused by the war on drugs. It was designed to fund youth development, violence prevention, healing solutions to the people and regions that have for too long been unheard and underserved. In 2019, the Cannabis Regulation Act required 25% of tax revenue to support these communities. This is a little history of where the government funding originated.


Success Stories of MTEF Grantees 

In November 2022, the USTA/Midwest Tennis & Education Foundation was awarded a 100k grant from Laureus Sport for Good USA as one of 41 organizations in Illinois who are intentionally using sport as a tool for youth development and violence prevention. Through this government funded program, the first of its kind in Illinois, more than 15,000 kids in Chicago and across the state will receive access to safe, inclusive, and supportive youth sport programs. We’re excited to use this funding to provide quality tennis and education programs that contribute to positive youth development. Since the USTA/Midwest Tennis & Education Foundation (MTEF) is running five (5) programs we have had many successes so far. We have a blend of programming that has been around for years and new programming that we are just building from your grant. This programming provides tennis, education and youth development in a supportive and safe environment, as well as build knowledge and skills for future success for college and career building.  Their missions include helping to level the playing field for at risk students who typically would never pick up a racquet or receive tennis instruction or academic tutoring. They reinforce values such as sportsmanship, teamwork, respect for whatever endeavor they pursue. With this grant from Laureus, each one of our programs has been able to accomplish many things. For one, programs like Love to Serve and TOP have been able to on-board more youth and expand its programing and pay additional court time. Other programs like YES have used this grant to pay additional staff to help them on court, tutoring and with organizational and financial development in ways they could never develop before. Some of our non-profits have been volunteers that are retired and have never utilized computers.  Since Covid, many of these NJTLs have been struggling to be sustainable.   Without grant funding, and help they would never be back on their feet again and able to roll out more, be on line and visible on sites like “serve tennis” and available to the r3 zones.   

Love to Serve

The USTA/Midwest Tennis & Education Foundation has 5 programs we granted to with successes with each. Our first program is Love to Serve, run by Lori James. The Laureus Grant has helped her become bolder and more confident in our desire to dream big. She has expanded her program to establish an affiliate partnership in Ethiopia with a new partnership with Vania King’s non-profit, Serving Up Hope in Chicago. In addition, she has been able to create and roll out a hybrid ACT/SAT Prep Program using Windward Academy as her curriculum, which is expected to begin the first of April with 30 new participants.  She has also created a new program providing youth apprenticeship training for future employment with the Chicago Park District as Tennis Instructors throughout the Chicagoland area as well as employment opportunities as high school coaches in public and private school.  

This program has also expanded outreach to a partnership in Ethiopia, with Haile-Manas Academy Campus, in January 2023. This global effort with her non-profit and theirs has vision is forward thinking making this effort a model initiative to be proud of. She uses tennis, her older youth as tutors, along with windward academy as a comprehensive curriculum that not only helps with English and Math, but writing essays, strategies for success, resumes, interviews, and other real-life applications.With the additional budget payout, Lori found a unique need in her community. She believes that you can’t start things that won’t continue. Many of the youth she serves live in areas of violence or reside in shelters and have no other outlets besides her tennis and educational programming. She runs as many hours as she possibly can. She partners with an organization nearby and used the additional funding to purchase youth memberships ($45) for the Croc Center. This allowed her youth safe haven after her program, or on weekends that she does not run events, as they are open until midnight. She started with 50 of her most active youth and wants to do more. 


Another seasoned program we have is TOP run by the legionary Luca Serra. Tennis Opportunity Program supports underserved youth with one-on-one academic support through discipline learned on and off court. Their goal ultimately is to achieve college education and the skills they teach will transfer to all aspects of youth’s lives. The Laureus grant has allowed them to add additional scholarship youth to the program this year, and they are specifically interested in how Hello Insight might be utilized in their reporting. 

One of which was a young gentleman who played tennis in his youth but had many life challenges. He was kicked out of programs and schools with behavioral issues in the past. Last year, his guardian reached out inquiring about a scholarship to join TOP. He has been focusing on turning his life around, an example is his GPA now to 3.25 (although cumulative is only at 2.0 due to poor performance freshman year). With the Laureus funding TOP had additional spaces and took him on with agreed parameters in February. Since then, he has shown drive, focus and teamwork. This past month heard he will be joining the high school varsity tennis team in the fall. Other success stories from TOP include 2 graduates that will both be attending Northwestern University in the fall. These young women extend their gratitude to TOP, their belief in them and their extensive program for providing them the opportunity of a lifetime. Without which they state, they wouldn’t have made the connections, or attended one of the best business schools in the country. 

Laureus Grant Frame Photo.jpg

YES Evanston

Next up, YES Evanston is run by two gentlemen, Ken Rattner and Don Walton. Both have poured themselves into tennis and education for their mission for decades. Ken has worked with partners in the communities, like Family Focus and after school programs to expand their reach of tutoring and academic instruction for at least an hour a week in addition to tennis instruction. Don has been on the courts and in the schools for over 60 years with Evanston Evolution. His reach extends to 4th graders across more than six (6) schools. These grant funds have made further outreach possible. They couldn’t have streamlined, paid for the internal support they needed to do the on-court work to reach the number of youth without the grant funds.  Don and Ken attribute not just participation growth in local schools but increase exposure/turnout from the community of new players that were introduced to the game of tennis. Many of these youth wanted to continue to be involved afterward with volunteering. With their additional funds, they bought additional supplies, they even purchased tennis shoes for some kids who couldn’t otherwise afford them. MTEF have also mapped out fundraising strategies and strategic planning for further outreach for 2023-2024 year.  

Center Court

Our next program is Center Court run by the founded attorney, Long Giang Le. He has started from square one with this opportunity and truly made this his own. He created his own budget beginning with tennis as his focus. He realized from the beginning that many of the youth in Aurora did not have the funds, so why not introduce them to many sports and free programs in the communities from partners? He used his free tennis program as a theme to draw youth from R3 zones with help from nonprofit minority organizations promoting his programing for not just tennis, but Saturdays that were an introduction to trying golf, boxing, hockey, and swimming. He also had theme days like Miami Open Tournament for tennis where invitations were sent to these youth with a viewing party. His outside of the box thinking led many youth off the streets to try more. He used his grant funds to explore more in the community. Some tried his tennis, some tried other sports at his site. We welcomed the idea!  

Center Court Community Tennis Association has made a specific impact on families in the Aurora, Illinois (R3) communities with a holistic approach to sport. With the Founder and Executive Director, Long Giang Le, 60% of focus on tennis, the remaining grant programing he branched out with the help from contacts at two partner non-profits, Lite Leaders and Simply Destinee, to offer exposure to Hispanic immigrant families that never had access to any sport. In this last quarter, and extended funding, he took the families to a Blackhawk’s game. One family, which includes a 10-year-old, 11 and 13 with 2 female cousins have experienced many setbacks. With broken English, the father was injured in a work-related accident. Through the Laureus funding, these youth were able to participate in summer long programs for free that exposed them to sports like tennis, golf, hockey (at least how to skate) and swimming for the first time. These funds have allowed this family and many others to grow in self-confidence, learn teamwork, have respect for each other, communicate without a language barrier, and learn ways to stay fit with positive exercise habits on a low budget. Many of which would never have been exposed to any of these sports if they weren’t made accessible so easily and free. 

Chicago District Parks Department

Our final program is our largest outreach, Chicago District Parks Department. They will be reaching over 2,500+ youth and will run free tennis in over 20 different parks. As you can imagine, such extensive coordination of programming is complex. Our Executive Direct for Chicago, Jill Siegel, and her team delt with changes in last minute schedules at the cancelation of day camps often impacted on the continuity of our program plans and curriculum. The additional extension on time was the biggest success for Chicago. Through the month of July, they will be processing/submitting an additional 1,000 hello insight surveys alone. For summer camp programs, the longer grant period is one of the largest benefits to youth. These parks are within the R3 zones in Illinois and impact the targeted r3 zone demographic. They plan on meeting with local city planner at the end of July to plan for summer 2024 and we will be a part of this process with Laureus. 

Throughout the 2023 grant year, MTEF and all the grantees were diligent in all the Illinois state reporting, audits, and performance reviews. Our grantees assisted in contacting state congresspersons to help in funding for the year 2024. Laureus reached out to MTEF contacts with an offer to amend our budget and extend our grant for two (2) additional months for an additional $50,000. With this additional budget payout our grantees were gratefully rewarded for their work.  

Laureus Grant Renewed for the 2023-2024 year

Changing lives in Illinois has never been easier with a partner like Laureus USA. We are proud to announce Laureus has renewed the Illinois grant for the year 2023-2024 and increased our grant funding from $100,000 to $175,000. We went from four National Junior Tennis & Learning Chapters in the heart of Chicago and the Chicago Park District (Tennis Association) and expanded to Southern Illinois Tennis Association along with an additional NJTL, the Central Illinois Tennis Association and included a northern CTA, Tennis Titans. With this additional funding, we expanded to the entire state of Illinois, impacting rural and urban areas. The original grantees were included and were challenged with growth metrics.   Each were required to submit strategic plans that included how they will overcome obstacles from last year and increase opportunities in their r3 zones. The Foundation uses this data in turn to create community impact reports that lead to insights and long-term outcomes that reflect programs' value.

Learn more about Laureus here.

New for 2024

Love To Serve

Lori James Since 1992, Love To Serve has provided under-resourced Chicago youth access to the non-traditional sport of tennis, along with our college readiness curriculum. The program’s goal is to help reduce violence by providing high quality structured programs that minimize youth involvement in unhealthy and high-risk behaviors. One huge success Love To Serve has had with this year’s grant is providing an additional 18 students (so far) with Kroc Center Memberships on top of the 61 memberships that were provided last year. This offers a protective factor for the students in this community to minimize unwanted outcomes for youth. Keeping under-resourced youth off the streets by creating an arena for them to participate in structured tennis and academic programs after-school, year-round, weekends and throughout the summer. Additionally, this program provides youth apprenticeship training for future employment with the Chicago Park District as Tennis Instructors throughout the Chicagoland area in different park sites as well as employment opportunities as high school tennis coaches in public and private schools. 

YES Evanston

Ken Rattner and Don Walton YES Evanston’s mission is to improve the lives of Evanston youth through tennis and academic assistance. Ken’s program creates opportunities for children in Evanston, especially those with limited resources and those needing extra help in school by providing after-school assistance and physical education through tennis. YES Evanston’s program runs from Sept – Nov and Mar – May utilizing school gyms during winter months and outdoor facilities during the spring. This year, Ken and Don plan to expand their outreach to youth in 12 additional schools beginning in January, including: Willard, Walker, Bessie Rhodes, Lincolnwood, Kingsley, Orrington, Dewey, Washington, Lincoln, Oakton, Dawes, and King Arts. We are very excited to see the impact these two will have on their community.  


Center Court

Long Giang Le Center Court has continued to make a difference in the Hispanic community of Aurora. He continues to bring an array of sports to these youth, offering exposure to boxing, hockey, swimming, and golf with a focus on tennis. His program also offers an educational component by teaching the kids about nutrition, physical education, and the physics of certain sports. Long Giang’s program has seen great success. Not only has he retained the individuals from last year’s grant program, but his students have also spread word adding several more students to his program. He has also maintained a relationship with Lite Leaders, which will also aid in increasing his outreach within the community.  



Luca Serra Tennis Opportunity Program supports under-resourced youth with one-on-one academic support through discipline learned on and off the court. Their goal is to achieve college education and the skills they teach will transfer to all aspects of youth’s lives. The students selected to be TOP Scholars are self-motivated, passionate tennis players, and hardworking students. TOP provides the resources and mentorship they need to continue to succeed and work toward a college scholarship. TOP will be able to provide 30-40 scholarships to the youth of Chicago with help from the Laureus grantee funds. TOP has granted 25 scholarships so far. 


CDTA Parks

Jill Seigel and Catherine Thom The Chicago District Tennis Association Parks Program is our largest tennis outreach program that the Laureus grant supports. Although these programs have not started yet (due to winter weather) we are excited to see the progress and success this program with have this year. They were able to increase staff from the Laureus funds to be able to take on more youth during their spring and summer camps. They are currently training and educating their new staff on Hello Insight and Sports Based Youth Development. They have also been working with the Chicago Park District to solicit interest from new parks who want to add tennis programming to their offerings. So far, they have received interest from 12 NEW parks and are working on scheduling a total of 20 parks where they will provide instruction this spring/summer. Expansion will be in southern and western neighborhoods with free programming and in some northside park locations, they plan to focus solely on “fee-based” programming so that they can start to reach new areas where programming has not been provided yet.


Tennis Titans

Amanda Hanlon Tennis Titans is one of our new programs that we were able to fund through Laureus. They were able to partner with 2 Elementary schools to offer after school fitness and tennis classes. The classes are focused on tennis with an emphasis on hand-eye coordination, fitness/athletic skills, confidence, and teamwork. So far, they have 10 classes with 75 kids total aged 4-12. Additionally, Tennis Titans are opening up Jr. Team Tennis for players who are newer to competition. The program is designed to provide a fun and competitive environment for juniors looking to improve their tennis skills and play matches as a team. With experienced coaches and a supportive team atmosphere, each child will be able to develop their tennis game while making new friends. General fitness and health education will be added to all classes with take home fitness activities, healthy eating ideas, recipes, and mental health tips. They have also teamed up with a Sports Psychologist to help the Jr. Team players work on mental strategies, mindfulness, and confidence on and off the court. 


Mid-South Tennis Association

Sonthana Thongsithavong and Patty Bramlet Last, but definitely not least, we have Mid-South. This program is finalizing the planning stages and will be implementing their first program in January. As of right now 30 kids have signed up for this program. The brand-new program will be housed in the local YMCA for ages 5-8. With a focus on promoting good health and increased activity for youth, the Y Giacomini Youth Tennis will host a Saturday tennis clinic for 4 weeks. The kids will learn teamwork, balance, agility, hand-eye coordination, problem solving, self-reliance and much more, all while having fun and making friends. Mid-South plans to increase outreach by working with the local schools in the area. They have researched and found that 13 schools are within the R3 zones of this area and excited in partnering with as many as possible this spring.

Tracking and Data Analytics: Hello Insight

The USTA/Midwest Tennis & Education Foundation has always believed that positive youth development (PYD) is done through a community approach with NJTLs (National Junior Tennis and Learning) chapters, non-profits like our CTAs (Community Tennis Associations), and with the assistance of our volunteers. Through our mission of bringing the joy of tennis and education to youth we enhance positive relationships, build leadership strengths, and provide opportunities for youth.  Laureus believes sport has the power to change the world. That it speaks to youth in a language they understand.   What draws our organizations together is the fact that this grant was designed for youth in under resourced areas of Illinois, to track sports-based youth development programs and their experiences of growth associated in social and emotional learning (SEL) in these programs. More specifically, SEL, is the process through how youth understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.   

2023 was the first year that MTEF has ever tracked components of SEL using a program called Hello Insight. Laureus provided this as a tool for tracking with their grant. As the world changes, we understand how crucial it will be to integrate coaches, programming, and a delivery model that includes psychological, and emotional safety and not just physical. Hello Insight is one piece of the puzzle to measuring impact that is quantitative, trackable for measuring and long-term analysis.  Hello Insight is an  online platform that leverages AI and researched-based tools to evaluate SEL, helping you understand what it takes for each young person to reach their fullest potential. Their evaluations helps youth development organizations prove impact and improve programs, with pre-built surveys, predictive analytics, and automated reports. We have been able to better understand, enhance, and share the impact we make on the youth served thought this grant.   

Learning about the satisfaction of the youth’s experience is important feedback on improving programs. If they aren’t engaged with the programing and not participating, they are not getting anything out of it physically, socially, or emotionally (learning).  Hence, they will not be telling a friend. When drilling down on these numbers, we found the highest satisfaction rate from the individual NJTLs and CTAs. This comes to no surprise, because the majority of the youth enrolled work with coaches, volunteers, or mentors for an ongoing basis week after week, for an extended period of time and are able to build relationships. Some of the most impactful outreach is done through NJTLs, one on one with youth. These NJTL programs provide at risk youth opportunities for more personal engagement and growth in all SEL areas. 

MTEF Tracking with Community Insight Reports  

Our Board is actively engaged in all our activities. One Board member, Dr. Jorge Brioni, started a committee after learning about Laureus and the data we had accumulated. Over the last year and a half, he has worked with a dedicated group to create, analyze and build templates for us to utilize to foster innovative ideas of improvement of Academic offering, measuring tennis outcomes in programming, and executing common strengths and best practices across sites.  

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