Tennis program helping refugees connect with the Abilene community


ABILENE, Texas (KRBC) - A few students at Abilene High School are using their passion to connect with new comers of Abilene.

The school's varsity tennis team has is hosting a program for refugee children to be able to fit in, in the community.

The program is called "First Serve." It is a six-week program and is in its fourth year. Thursday was the first day of the season and will continue to take place on Thursday's at the Abilene High School tennis court from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

First Serve was created by Abilene-native, Drake Coleman, who has left the state for school
Now, his mother, Cathie Coleman and his high school alma mater is continuing his legacy.    

"I've practiced how to play tennis and I'm so grateful for that," second-year participant, Gloria said.

Eight-year-old Gloria is one of several hundreds who have been a part of "First Serve."

The Congolese-native is back for another serve.

"I'm so grateful I'm here at tennis and I'm so grateful I'm here in America. It's so beautiful," Gloria said.

High school junior, Clark Sullivan said taking part in this program was a no-brainer for him.

"Growing up in a family with four younger siblings and we're a foster family as well so I love kids," Sullivan said. "So, I decided that I come and do this thing."

Now, in his second year as a volunteer, he is looking for ways to improve the program.

"I think this is a really great way to get these kids out here and to get them just some exposure, even if they don't end up playing tennis in the future, it's a great foundation for them, I think," Sullivan said. "Get to know people and kind of try and let them know what we're doing. I'm kind of trying to lead this thing right now. I think it'll be a great year."

"I've got a great group of kids and Abilene has such a large group of refugee communities and out here, when I'm watching these, they just have a blast," Tennis coach Stacy Bryan said.

"First Serve" started four years ago by Drake Coleman.

"He had this vision to really work with refugees and the thing he knew best was tennis, so Drake, at the age of 12 in sixth grade actually wrote a grant to the American tennis association and started a tennis program for refugee children," Resettlement director with International Rescue Committee, Susanna Lubanga said.

The program typically has 20 to 30 kids each season. The program teaches kids between ages 7 and 12. Some have even gone to play tennis in middle school and high school.

"They meet with the kids, they teach them basic tennis skills but they also talk about just life skills, how to behave, how to be a team, how to actually fit into our community and that's a great way to connect because often times they feel isolated when they first arrive here," Lubanga said.

Lubanga said once this session finishes, they will restart again in the spring. Anyone who wishes to be a volunteer can contact her through the International Rescue Committee. The International Rescue Committee is located at 3305 N 3rd St Suite 320, Abilene, TX 79603. The phone number is: (325) 675-5643.

 "We always look for people at the IRC to volunteer and I always tell people to tell me your passion and I'll tell you how you can connect with refugees because they come from all walks of life, they come from all ages," Lubanga said.


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