Malavai Washington


Volunteers are changing lives at the Malivai Washington after-school program

The Malivai Washington after-school program has become an essential part of the community in Jacksonville. The program is an extension of the Malivai Washington Youth Foundation, which was founded by former professional tennis player and Wimbledon finalist, Malivai Washington.

It seeks to empower children through mentoring, tutoring, and sports; primarily tennis, as a means to help them become successful community leaders. The staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that the students who attend the program are motivated to become the best in all aspects of life.  However, they credit the collaborative relationship with the volunteers as their backing in youth development.

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Development on the tennis court

Tennis serves as the physical component of the foundation, which teaches kids work ethic, discipline, and overall fun. Since Washington is a former pro-tennis player, it would only be fitting for him to implement the sport in the program.

Coach Mark Atkinson is the Head Tennis Pro and Teen Program Coordinator with the foundation. While some of the students take advantage of the opportunity to participate simply for recreational play, others compete in tournaments across the country, receiving their training from Coach Mark and the help of volunteers.

Many of the kids just appreciate the opportunity to learn how to play the sport, like 8-year-old Kennesha Cooksey. “I like about the coaches that when we miss, they keep helping us and they keep throwing us balls.”

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The power of Mentoring 

The foundation has seen countless volunteers walk through its doors since 1998. The mentors play a significant role in the program, as they help foster life skills and academic support. Volunteer mentors like Nicholas Smith, who discovered the organization by chance, has been volunteering for a few years. Smith has seen a significant change in his mentee, and he knows the impact volunteers can have on the students.

“I mean, he went from a fourth grader who was struggling — D’s and F’s in math, science, all the subjects,” says Smith regarding his mentee, “and now he’s solidly I think a B to C student, which is monumental jump.” He continues, “And he’s just more confident. And I’m not saying that’s all me by any means, but to be myself and to watch it happen…the extent that I even have any effect on him has been awesome.”

Effective learning through Tutoring

Tutoring also plays a significant role in the foundation’s overall goal to help develop its students. Most of the students attending the program also attend neighboring John E. Ford elementary school. The school is currently a B school according to the 2014-2014 Florida Department of Education School grade report. While the foundation’s staff boasts that they have very bright students, some of the students do require help with their studies. That’s where volunteers like Meklit Danie come in.

She says, “We have a strong relationship and a friendship, because we grow up with them throughout the whole year and we see them in their highs and lows. And I like seeing how they’re doing. They’re catching on, they’re learning new lessons easily.”

It’s through their continued learning that the students have developed a sense of community and have discovered the gift of giving back themselves.

Empowerment through Community Leadership

“And they have the opportunity then, to develop unique friendships with someone of a different age, sometimes someone of a different race. So it really gives them the opportunity to think outside their little second or third grade or fifth grade box that they’re in so often,” says Terri Florio, Executive Director and CEO of Malivai Washington Youth Foundation.

Some of the students have even developed a friendship with children more than 8,000 miles away. Inspired by a trip taken by one of the program’s staff, the students began the Compassion Club, which consists of several young ladies who sponsor a child in Africa.

“We sponsor a child in Kenya and we provide for him,” says one of the club’s members.  “Like we send him notes, we buy him toys. And our child is seven … no … yeah seven years old. And yeah, we buy him stuff, clothes, toothbrushes and provide for his family.”

It’s quite clear that the staff and the volunteers have a profound influence on the students. The foundation is always seeking volunteers to help further its mission to, “develop champions in classrooms, on tennis courts and throughout communities.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities with Malivai Washington Youth Foundation and After School Program visit