Every Friday night, Quadeer Pratt joins a group of local high school students at Legacy Youth Tennis and Education in East Falls. The teenagers are members of the Goodstein Junior Leaders, a program that fosters leadership skills and civic involvement in addition to tennis strokes. Last week, Pratt, a freshman at Mastery Simon Gratz High, and six of his peers returned from a week-long service project in Haiti.
Ben Hirsh is Legacy’s Coordinator of Youth Leadership and Volunteer Engagement, which offers lessons on tennis and life skills to kids ages 4 to 18. In addition to the 16-court facility (formerly the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis Center) on Ridge Avenbue, Legacy sends tennis pros and student volunteers to hold free tennis workshops at 45 schools and recreational centers throughout Philadelphia and Camden. From these clinics and neighborhoods, Hirsh and others recruit students to participate as Goodstein Junior Leaders. On Friday nights, these teenagers meet for 90 minutes of tennis, a meal, and a meeting.
It was at one of these meetings in 2010 that student leaders decided to help Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. To facilitate their vision, students embarked on a two and a half year fundraising campaign, and Legacy teamed with buildON, an international nonprofit that builds schools in third-world countries.
Quadeer Pratt was involved with the program for a year before traveling to the village of Menard, where his team helped to build a school with chaperones Ben Hirsh and Legacy board member David Broida. At the end of the week, the team gave tennis lessons to Haitian youth with equipment that they donated: 20 tennis rackets, balls, and “quick-start” nets.
Hefei Liu, a junior at Harriton High School in Rosemont, was a teammate of Pratt’s. Both students say they will always remember the care and compassion of their Haitian host families.
“The love that they gave us is truly amazing,” said Liu, whose host mother called him “my son.”
Pratt was impressed as soon as the team arrived in the village. He couldn’t believe that the people welcomed them so openly and quickly.
“They loved us and were happy to see us and we didn’t even do anything yet,” he said. Pratt and his two roommates stayed with a family of four who slept on the floor to accommodate them.
Service work and cultural lessons
The Legacy team spent four hours molding and stacking cement blocks for the school in the mornings. During afternoons, they had “cultural workshops” in which villagers gave lessons in local customs like baking bread and practicing voodoo. BuildON sent interpreters that helped them understand Creole, but assistance also came from unexpected places.
“I had a little boy following me around the village all the time,” said Quadeer Pratt, “and he would interpret for me.” At the end of each day, Ben Hirsh gathered his group into a circle to process their experiences.
Quadeer Pratt says he will remember the time spent with his host family the most. Without technology, he and his roommates spent their evenings watching how their host family relaxed: they sang, they danced, and gathered outside with neighbors.