Bronx Native Turns Pied Piper of Orlando Tennis -- USTA Florida Feb. 2011 VOM Eli Rivera

February 8, 2011 04:06 PM
Rivera-Eli-webTen and Under Tennis/QuickStart volunteer coach Eli Rivera has brought his Bronx sensibilities to Orlando tennis, using his skill set as a former New York City physical education teacher to open doors for Orlando-area children of need to play tennis and stay active.

"I choose to serve in communities where diversity opportunities are minimal," said Rivera, who brings tennis to urban youth during the summers, and has expanded his efforts to a local community center. "Children really embrace you, and are influenced by your presence in their lives. My past tennis life gave me the personal satisfaction of having my core of players graduate high school in an area where dropout rate is very high. I bring that with me here to Orlando and give the children different opportunities which the game of tennis can give."

The volunteer Ten and Under Tennis/QuickStart coach is also a volunteer team captain, and keeps healthy by trying to keep up with his grandkids.

"I was invited by [Director of Tennis] Marcelo Gouts to volunteer in a weekly tennis program," Rivera said of his work last summer at the Fort Gatlin Tennis Center. "The children numbered around 45 with an age range of 8-12. We worked all the children at once with the assistance of their counselors. Everybody was put to work. Counselors were given a super-quick crash course on basic strokes we would use in game instruction. Once the children hit the courts they were moving, moving, moving. It was follow-the-leader tennis. It was intense, exhausting and fun."

Susie Rahimitabar, director of junior recreational programs and a PTR-certified instructor at the Lake Cane Tennis Center, has worked alongside Rivera.

"His background as a New York City teacher is useful in organizing large numbers of young players and their parents to produce amazing results," Rahimitabar said. "Orlando is lucky to have such a motivating coordinator for QuickStart and Jr. Team Tennis."

Rivera says he is constantly "preaching the gospel of tennis" to local area tennis centers and schools in an effort to introduce more children to tennis through the easy-to-learn QuickStart play format. He has also teamed with Hebni Nutrition, which recently received a USTA Florida "Share the Love" grant, to be applied for after-school programs in the Orlando area.

"Fed by the Rocklake Elementary School, RockLake Community Center has been my favorite place to teach," Rivera said. "Myself along with fellow pros Stephanie and Fazil have been contracted by Hebni Nutrition to instruct children in tennis. It has been a rewarding experience to see how tennis has become a favorite activity for the children. Whenever we leave, it's 'When are you coming back?'...We just can't wait for someone to come in and get paid for the work, we must contribute and improve the quality of life of our children."

That grassroots volunteer attitude has helped the Orlando area's already-booming Ten and Under Tennis/QuickStart participation surge. The February 2011 USTA Florida Volunteer of the Month, Rivera has only begun plying his Bronx background to lead Florida children to tennis courts.

"Eli Rivera is the pied piper of QuickStart Tennis in the Greater Orlando Area," Rahimitabar said. "He has grown the program several times over and continues to add new cooperating facilities. Often donating prizes, time and resources, he works to involve every child who wants to play."  
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ABOUT ELI

Birthplace:
New York City, NY
Family Members: "Mother Ana, my children Tilsa, Elisammuel and Sebastian. Also my three perfect grandkids, Izania, Maxwell and Isais."
Favorite Movie: Dracula Dead and Loving It
Favorite Food: lasagna
Favorite Travel: Puerto Rico
Favorite Tennis Shot: "Any stroke that goes over the net for a winner!"

My earliest tennis memory was..."Born in New York City, tennis was not on the agenda of sports to play. My parents always wanted to offer me more than they had as children, so they searched and found a tennis program at Crotona Park in the Bronx. I remember that the courts were red clay. I remember the great times I had thanks to my parent's love. Later on in life, being at the historic Jimmy Connors match in New York City with my daughter. When everyone thought it was over we didn't, and as they left we were able to move all the way down to the second row. The match was great, being there with her is forever in my life memories."

If I could play tennis with three people, they would be..."Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Need I say more."

When I am not playing tennis I am..."Planning on how to promote the game of tennis and trying to hit some golf balls. I said trying."

Best ever tennis memory..."While working for the New York Junior Tennis League I had the honor of bringing my players to the Tennis Teachers Workshop during the US Open week. The children perform different tennis skills, and afterward we had the opportunity to meet Arthur Ashe and Julius Erving. Both being my idols, I was like a kid on Christmas morning. Also returning a serve down the line while playing my daughter, she still says it was out!"

I like to volunteer in tennis because..."Volunteering brings such personal satisfaction that it's often addictive. As adults we at times don't truly understand the difference we make to younger children."
 
 
 

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