On April 6, Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program (HJTEP) will celebrate 48 years of inspiring youngsters through tennis and education at its HJTEP Spring Gala. The event will bring together tennis stars, celebrity tennis fans and supporters of this vibrant program for inner-city kids, ages 7–18.

“Our ultimate goal is using tennis as a vehicle for these kids to earn a college scholarship—whether that’s through academics or tennis or both,” said HJTEP Executive Director Katrina Adams. “The gala is an opportunity for people to come out and support a great cause and to hear from some of our youth. They’ll hear about their journey and their testimony as to what the program has meant to them and how it has impacted them to be successful.”

HJTEP enrolls about 1,000 students each school year and 150–300 in its summer program. They learn the game of tennis and also participate in education programs aimed at developing the whole child—in sports, school and life.

“The gala is a great way for people to meet others who support the same cause and have a fun evening. Hopefully, we raise a lot of money in the process,” said Adams, a former professional tennis player and past president and CEO of the United States Tennis Association.

A 2.0 GPA is required to participate in HJTEP, but the participants average a 3.1 GPA. There is tutoring, ACE curriculum (academics, creative, engagement), the Bright Learning Academy and Center Court Enrichment. There are also wellness programs, such as fitness and nutrition. Ninety-percent of participants graduate high school, and some have gone on to top colleges such as Rutgers, Hampton and Morehouse.

“We are keeping kids in school. We’re keeping kids motivated. We’re keeping kids in a safe environment and we’re also introducing them to other cultures. We’re a diverse program and these kids go on to be lifelong friends,” said Adams, who grew up in a program like this in inner city Chicago. It fuels her motivation and passion to ensure the kids of Harlem have similar opportunities.

“It’s not to accomplish all the things that I’ve done, but I know it can put them on the right track,” said Adams. “That’s what the beauty of tennis brings to anyone who plays it. It teaches you self-discipline. It builds confidence and self-esteem. It teaches you how to persevere because you have to solve puzzles on the court. These are things we do in everyday life. That’s what tennis provides for these kids.”