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James Blake "Building a foundation for success" at the USTA - Monday, December 5, 2016



 Dec. 4, 2016

 In February 2015, James Blake was approached by the United States Tennis Association to be the chairman of the USTA Foundation, the association’s charitable organization.

 The former world No. 4 didn’t need to consider the offer for very long. The job description was right up his alley.

 Born in Yonkers, NY, but raised in Fairfield, CT, the 36-year-old is a big proponent of education and giving back to those in need, both of which are key components of the USTA Foundation’s overall mission.

 "My goal is to keep being helpful and using my voice any way I can, and any way it’s effective,” says Blake, who helped the U.S. win the 2007 Davis Cup. "I hope to be doing this for a long time.”

 Blake’s tennis journey began modestly, at the Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program (HJTEP), when he was just 5 years old. He went to the Harlem Armory Center nearly every Sunday until he was 15, and even though he far surpassed his peers on the court—it wouldn’t be long until Blake would play collegiately at Harvard University—as soon as he got his driver’s license he went to Harlem once a week to volunteer, just as his father did when Blake was a child.

 With the HJTEP, Blake was provided a golden opportunity to play tennis for free for a decade. But more importantly, he learned the values of education, sportsmanship, camaraderie, hard work and discipline. It was an experience he would never forget.

 After his retirement from the ATP tour in 2013, Blake took some time away from the game. He relished in spending quality time with his family and, when time allowed, got out on the golf course to play 18. But he soon realized how much he missed being around tennis, and when the opportunity to help disadvantaged children improve their lives and become better tennis players, he couldn’t resist. It was a natural fit.

 He wanted to do for the USTA Foundation what the Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program had done for him all those years ago. 

 As the chairman of the association, Blake is responsible for raising funds to promote and create programs like the HJTEP. He organizes events, makes appearances to support the USTA Foundation and assists in making existing programs even stronger and more impactful.

 His commitment to the cause, passion for humanitarianism, knowledge of tennis and charitable initiatives, and star power have made an immediate impact on the organization.

 "He has been instrumental in helping us raise funds,” says David Slade, USTA National Manager, Development and Gifts. "We had a pledge of raising $15 million over three years, and we’re well on our way to that in our second year.”

 One of Blake’s goals is to improve the facilities that host USTA Foundation programs. That costs money, and much of his job consists of handling accounts and reports and hopping on conference calls. When Blake plans events and coordinates programs, he says, it’s rewarding to know that he’s making a difference.

 But there’s nothing quite like seeing his work come to life, and seeing his projects come to fruition.

 "If I see where the money goes, those are, for me, the most rewarding [moments,]” Blake says. "I think it’s human nature. You don’t stop and think and appreciate that every single day when you’re doing it—when you’re going about the business of raising the funds—until you see it in action.”

 The USTA Foundation doesn’t just support youngsters. In addition to the National Junior Tennis and Learning network—which consists of more than 500 non-profit organizations that give more than 225,000 kids the chance to learn and play tennis for free or at a low cost—there are programs for military service members, veterans and individuals with disabilities.

 Grants and scholarships are offered—more than $22 million has been awarded—and fundraisers are held year-round. On August 25th and 26th, the USTA Foundation hosted the sixth annual Connecticut Pro-Am & Gala, held at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich. Three days later, the organization held the 16th annual Opening Night Gala at the U.S. Open. Coming into this year’s event in Flushing Meadows, the Opening Night Gala had raised over $6 million.

 "For me, any time I get the opportunity to go to one of those facilities,” Blake says, "it’s really all the inspiration I need to get back on another conference call and get back out and make an appearance at another event.”

 Blake understands as well as anyone the power of the USTA Foundation, and he also knows that the sky is the limit. More money can always be raised. More lives can always be changed. The possibilities are endless, and that inspires Blake to continue working as hard as he ever did on the court.

 Toward the end of his career, the 10-time titlist returned to Connecticut, moving into a house in the coastal town of Westport. He resided there until 2015, when his wife, Emily Snider, convinced him to move to San Diego. (He admittedly wasn’t too upset when he lost that marital argument.)

 Living in sunny Southern California, Blake has a lot on his plate. In addition to his work with the USTA and his full-time job as a father of two young daughters, the former tennis champion is involved in several other charitable endeavors. He doesn’t know what the future holds—ambitious people in the mold of Blake often don’t—but he knows that, for the foreseeable future, he wants to continue supporting education, growing tennis and giving chances to those who otherwise would not have them.

 "Right now I’m doing the best I can with this situation,” Blake says, "and I hope to do it for as long as I can be effective.”


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