MaliVai Washington walked into the lobby of the Ritz Carlton and began eyeing the silent auction items displayed on the tables. Not odd – the spread was part of a foundation fundraiser taking place that evening, and Washington was in DC to accept an honor. What was strange is that no one immediately recognized him. Quite a difference from Washington’s days on the tennis court, where the one-time Wimbledon finalist made his presence known with his booming serve and steady ground game.
Washington probably did not take it personal. After all, on this night he was being recognized by the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation for his post-playing philanthropy work. This night was about the more than 10 years he’d been working to serve youth, not aces. This night was about celebrating the accomplishments of the MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation and the Youth Center that opened its doors in 2008.
It is with the foundation that Washington has fiercely devoted as much time and energy as he once did on his game. And in a world where distractions are plentiful, Washington hopes the lessons he’s learned from tennis – discipline, sportsmanship, self-confidence – can be taught to the youth he works with.
“The biggest challenge we face occurs everyday, because these kids are being pulled into negative directions on a daily basis,” he says. “We are pulling them into something positive. And we have to figure out productive ways to keep them on track.”
Started back in 1997 in Jacksonville, Florida, MWKF’s programs provide development activities for youth in elementary through high school. There are after-school programs, summer camps, and of course tennis. The foundation operates in one of the most underserved areas of the city – a majority of the children live at or below the poverty level, and there are high rates of teen pregnancy and juvenile crime. To date, the organization has touched the lives of more than 15,000 Jacksonville area-youth. And a true measure of its success is the brand new, $3 million state-of-the-art youth center.
The WTEF, a tennis, education and life skills foundation itself, presented Washington, and Mary Carillo, with the Champion of Tennis Award at its annual fundraiser.
“I’m excited the WTEF is embarking on a project to expand,” said Washington, referring to the new center. “I know our impact as a result of expanding, and to be part of that is exciting for me.”
And as he did after capturing the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year award in 2009, Washington shifted the focus from himself onto the foundation, acknowledging that it was a “tremendous” honor he appreciated and accepted on behalf of his hard-working staff, as it showed their efforts were being noticed.
He and his staff will continue to work tirelessly to accomplish the foundation’s goals.
“It’s more work than I could ever have imagined,” says Washington, who is involved in every aspect of the foundation. “But it’s also more gratifying than I could have ever imagined.”
Living a purposeful life might be the nicest way to recognized.
How you can get in the game:
At the MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation website, you can make a donation or volunteer your services
You can also show your support for the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation at their website