Tennis Pro Passes on Life and Tennis Lessons to Jacksonville Youth

Published: Oct. 16, 2020

Former tennis professional and UNF graduate, MaliVai Washington, merged his love for tennis with giving back to the community to create the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation in Jacksonville 24 years ago.

MaliVai Washington coaching student, Tyhlur, at the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation. Photo by Molly-Anne Seymour.

The foundation is built on principles Washington learned from his parents – high character and the value of hard work. He said if you have those two characteristics, you can go far in life.

Before starting the foundation, Washington was often approached at tennis tournaments and asked to tell his story to children at other programs. Washington’s foundation often asks volunteers to speak to the children and pass on life lessons.

“Everyone has a story that can resonate with a kid – that can benefit a kid at my foundation,” said Washington.

Washington and his dad created the foundation on paper, but it wasn’t until Washington spoke with executive director Terri Florio that he was able to create an idea of what the foundation would look like. 

He combined tennis and after-school activities to help children succeed in the Jacksonville community. Florio said activities, depending on children’s grade level, include homework assistance, life skills and leadership classes, tutoring, electives, and professional and study skills classes.

Washington considers himself to not only be the founder, but a board member, volunteer, donor and the foundation’s biggest advocate. 

“I jokingly say I never want to work as an employee for my foundation,” said Washington. “I love what we do, but I know my limitations.”

Washington believes the foundation’s employees have a gift with children and that each one of them resonates with the children differently.

Washington is proud that graduates of the program come back to visit, despite their busy lives. He considers the foundation to be a life-long accomplishment. 

“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve been in northeast Florida for over 24 years,” said Washington. “It’s very difficult to have anything last for 24 years, whether it’s a foundation or relationship. I’m proud of the fact that we’re still impacting young people.” 

Washington was introduced to tennis by his father at the age of five. He played his first tournament at seven and won his first tournament when he was eight. He fell in love with the competition aspect and being on the court. 

Washington played for two years at the University of Michigan, before turning professional and playing on the pro tour. He finished his college degree and graduated from UNF in 2010. 

The foundation’s biggest event is the “Night of Hope” Oct. 8, which features special guests, student-athlete of the year awards, and silent and live auction items. This event is usually in person, but this year it is virtual on their Facebook Live due to COVID-19.

The foundation loves to have volunteers. Florio said people can volunteer as a mentor, a tutor and a worker at one-day events. Florio also encourages organizations to invite children to come and have an experience outside of the foundation. 

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