ALAMO (KPIX 5) Every few months, Jack Nielsen gets his parents to help him sort through rackets, shoes, and clothes that accumulate in their garage in Alamo.
Nielsen knows that the cost of playing tennis is not always easy to cover for kids and their families.
"It can be an expensive sport to play and I kind of wanted to break down that barrier for a lot of people in the Bay Area," he said.
Three years ago, at age 14, Nielsen created "Tennis Community Cares," asking for donations of gently used tennis gear.
"Maybe somebody tried to play tennis and they played it for, you know, a few months and they realized they didn't like and they had all this equipment lying around, or maybe they had old rackets that they hadn't really used too much," he explained.
Nielsen put out donation barrels at local tennis clubs and drew up a business plan, convincing the U.S. Tennis Association to become partners. Michael Cooke of NorCal USTA was quite impressed with Nielsen's work.
"This wasn't just a couple of rackets and a couple of shoes," Cooke said. "This was garages full of clothing and shoes and rackets and every type of thing and all of a sudden they said we can direct these to different programs all through out the Bay Area."
Now a senior at Monte Vista High School in Danville, Nielsen says Tennis Community Cares has helped nearly 500 people by giving away nearly 200 rackets, the same number of shoes, and 800 clothing items. Most of it goes to kids who otherwise wouldn't be able to play the game.
One of the schools benefiting from Nielsen's program is Pittsburg High School, where the coach says that every girl who wants to play tennis, makes the team. This year, that number came out to about 60 girls.
Pittsburg's tennis coach, Thomas Arbuckle, is very appreciative of what the program does for his young student-athletes.
"It's going to be good to have them all come here Monday ready to go instead of me having to say 'Hey you need tennis shoes? Hey you need a racket? Ok I'll see what I can do,'" Arbuckle said.
The significance is not lost on Tiffany Vo, a senior at Pittsburg High School.
"There are girls that can't even afford a racket or workout clothes," Vo said. "So I think it's a really good opportunity because tennis is known to be a very expensive sport."
For Nielsen, it's about sharing his love of the game.
"So what was important to me is sort of like giving back the sport to people who wouldn't necessarily be able to easily play it," he said.
So for giving more kids the chance to play, and love, a game they might not otherwise be able to play, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Jack Nielsen.
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