Gina Davis is 14 and a varsity tennis player at Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago, where she’s into poetry and “adores” physics. She’s also a participant (since fifth grade) and junior instructor at Love To Serve. The program, her mother Nina says, hasn’t just improved Gina’s tennis technique; it’s made her a first-rate test taker.
Love To Serve is a Chicago-based program supported by USTA/Midwest Tennis & Education Foundation. Since 1992, Love To Serve has offered tennis instruction and administered afterschool academic enrichment and tutoring in underserved communities. “Urban, at-risk kids — that’s who we love, that’s who we serve,” says Executive Director Lori James.
Gina is the middle of three children and an excellent student. “She’s dedicated and disciplined,” Nina Davis adds. “I don’t push her; she does it on her own.”
Gina started playing tennis at age 4. Like many parents, the Davises wanted her to try different activities, including soccer, volleyball, and swimming. “Around 7th grade, my parents asked, ‘What do you really want to do?’” Gina recalls. “I liked tennis because I thought it was really fun and that I was kind of talented at it. It was fun to start getting good and competing.”
Love To Serve built Gina’s confidence — “I was a very shy kid,” she says — and taught her to manage her time. In an innovative partnership with Chicago Parks District, current and former program participants earn a good wage teaching younger children as junior instructors. “This has really prepped me for getting a job later in life,” she says. “You have to be on time. You have to be ready to work. You have to know what to do and do it well.”
Love To Serve founder and coach LaMont Bryant encouraged Gina to take the eight-week ACT prep course that the program offers in the seventh grade, and again in the eighth. She took the test at the end of eighth grade and scored above the national average for high school juniors. This year she’s in ACT prep again. “Just like tennis is muscle memory, the test-preparation courses have made her an incredible test taker,” her mother says. “It’s amazing that Love To Serve cares enough to do that.”
Becoming familiar with the test material makes a difference, Gina agrees. She plans to take the test again this fall, and again in her junior year if needed to reach the high score she is aiming for.
“Lori James and Coach Bryant are very supportive of our academics,” Gina adds. “They want to know how you’re doing in your classes and if you’re keeping up on your homework.” Through teaching at Love To Serve, her daughter has also learned the value of giving back and become aware that she is a role model for her younger students, her mother adds.
Gina might want to study architecture or engineering in college, and she may be a candidate for a tennis scholarship. But if she chooses another path, her high test scores might improve her chances of support based on her academic achievements. Nina wants her daughter to make the choice.
“Thank you so much, Coach Bryant and Mrs. James!” Nina recently wrote. “Gina is on her way to obtaining a great scholarship for college, thanks to your program.”