Hillcrest High School opened its doors to students of Elmvale Acres, an Ottawa-South community, in 1961. The school grounds were home to four hard courts, a wonderful feature to bring tennis into the area. Fast forward just over 40 years to 2003, and the courts that were once full of opportunity no longer held such hope and life. Buried under leaves, the courts were neglected. There were now weeds and grass growing out of the cement, the net posts were tilted, and the nets themselves were nowhere to be found. Hillcrest's courts were unplayable, unsafe, and the school had no funding to invest in their repair.
Danielle Smith, Founder
Meanwhile, Danielle Smith was about to retire from her career at CHEO as a nurse in the neo-natal intensive care unit. Her dream was to start up a tennis program that would give children and adults a chance to fall in love with tennis, while also helping to improve poverty in the community. Danielle noticed the run down courts at Hillcrest High School, almost across the street from CHEO, and initiated a meeting with the high school principal. She then successfully applied for a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and received $33,000 to resurface the courts. Danielle opened the Hillcrest Tennis Academy, which is now known as the Ottawa Tennis Community Centre. Since 2003, Danielle has gone on to receive various grants that have allowed her to continue to grow her organization and bring her dreams to life.
Ridgemont High School Courts Ridgemont High School is another secondary school that opened its door just shortly before Hillcrest High School. It serves students in the Alta Vista area of the Ottawa-South community. Ridgemont has two hard courts that had also become neglected and destroyed over the years. A few years after Danielle oversaw the resurfacing of the four Hillcrest courts, she applied for a grant to put towards Ridgemont. Successful once again, Danielle was able to bring the two courts at Ridgemont back to beautiful blue and green hard courts. The famous vines around the fences, once overgrown and invasive, now provide privacy and character to the courts.
A Love of Tennis
In 2012 we received charitable status, and Danielle created A Love of Tennis, a second non-profit tennis organization. Since then we have touched the lives of over 12,000 kids through the organization's program! A Love of Tennis is a program available free of cost to children and youth aged 6-18 in Ottawa. Our Hillcrest and Ridgemont courts are home to the program, and all necessary equipment is provided for our participants. A Love of Tennis promotes lifelong health and leadership through the development of tennis skills, physical literacy, and core values.
Embedded in the program are our 7 core values of optimism, knowledge, honesty, excellence, accountability, respect, and teamwork. Our children and youth are taught the important meanings behind each value, and how to put them in action through active modelling. A Love of Tennis also includes team tennis, which allows every participant the opportunity to play matches as part of a team while practicing their tennis and teamwork skills. All participants are assessed on their physical literacy for instructors to understand their group's strengths and areas for improvement, to ensure that they are supporting further development of these skills. Feedback cards are also given to every participant at the end of the season, acting as a record of what skills they have accomplished, what they can look forward to practicing next year, and a personal note from their instructor.
A Love of Tennis has impacted many lives, and will continue to grow in the future. Our Impact to Date
Volunteers have contributed over 10,000 hours, 6 tennis professionals have been certified through Tennis Canada, all 6 of our courts have been painted with junior lines, and we have established a team tennis league for girls. We also have implemented our second program, Tennis on the Streets, which brings programming to various areas in Ottawa where kids have no access to courts or lessons. Two important features of both of our programs are our physical literacy and core value components. If you have never heard of physical literacy before, do not worry! Just like English literacy refers to an individual's competencies in comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary, physical literacy refers to an individual's running, jumping, and locomotor competencies. Physical literacy assessments allow us to determine our participants' strengths and areas for improvement, to work towards increased physical literacy every year. This puts our kids in a position to lead healthier and more active lifestyles.
Here is a full list of our accomplishments thus far:
6 hard courts refurbished across two school sites
Junior lines added to all 6 courts
A Love of Tennis, Tennis on the Streets, and All-Girl League programs, all for youth aged 6-18
Provided equipment and training to 10 Ottawa schools to incorporate tennis into their physical education
10,000 volunteer hours put forth by community members
6 pros certified as instructors by Tennis Canada
12,000 children and youth have participated in our programs
85% retention rate of participants
Improved physical literacy scores across 100% of participants
Many of our leaders have gone on to university and are establishing themselves in successful careers.
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, it has taken away two precious summers of our meaningful program. Not only do we miss our wonderful participants and being with everyone on the courts, but our community has had to go without a program that truly changes lives.
In addition, as a non-profit organization, our services rely on funding from grants, donations, and fundraisers. Without programs, grants are hard to come by. Without programs, word of mouth is also less likely for donations. The financial impact that the pandemic has had on families also impacts the ability for our communities to give donations.
We have opened our courts for rentals/memberships in exchange for a donation as a fundraising initiative, to provide access to courts when Ottawa Public Health allowed. We also have a special bracelet fundraiser that will be ongoing year-round.
Our Dreams for the Future
A Love of Tennis still has many dreams and goals that have yet to be accomplished. Returning to the courts with our programming when COVID-19 allows, and continuing to expand our programs within Ottawa are short-term goals. Other goals that we have in our future are to develop more meaningful programming, resurface more abandoned courts, build our facilities, reach outside of Ottawa, receive more funding, and be in a position to give back to our youth. We are working on various fundraising initiatives to help pave our way towards our dream for our communities.