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Daily Real Estate News  |  October 18, 2007  |   Real Estate Pro Uses Tennis to Help City Kids
MaliVai Washington didn’t follow a traditional path when he retired in 1999 from his successful tennis career at age 30.

A finalist at Wimbledon just three years earlier, Washington got his real estate license and focused on growing his MaliVai (pronounced mal-a-VEE-a) Washington Kids Foundation, which he established a few years earlier as a grant-writing organization to help underprivileged kids.

Before long, the foundation was partnering with youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club to teach underprivileged children to play tennis. “Otherwise, they never would have been exposed to the sport,” says Washington.

He soon realized the children also needed help off the court with studies and self-esteem, lessons he had mastered from his parents, both college grads.

In 2000, the foundation expanded its mission and leased space in a city parks building in a low-income, high-crime area of Jacksonville, Fla. The program now provides a free, three-hour, five-day-a-week after-school program of tutoring, mentoring, and tennis. Initially, the program, nicknamed “TnT” for tennis and tutoring, worked with first- through sixth-grade students, then extended its reach through high school.

“Finding the kids to participate is easy," says Washington. "The challenge is creating a curriculum they’ll be interested in, so they keep coming back.”

Daily attendance and school attendance is mandatory. “Kids can’t come to our program if they miss school that day. The single biggest impact we’ve had is that we’ve raised attendance and promotion rates,” says Washington, 38, who was the country’s No. 1 ranked college player when we was a student at University of Michigan.

Since the after-school program was started, Washington, Executive Director Terri Florio, a full-time staff of six and 15 part-timers have helped more than 250 children. The Foundation continues to partner with youth organizations to provide free tennis clinics. Washington estimates all his efforts have helped 15,000 children and raised $250,000 for college scholarships.

“By correlating success on the court with success in life, we foster leadership, sportsmanship, self-esteem, confidence, discipline, accountability, and the value of hard work, teamwork and individual effort,” says Washington, married and the father of two young children.

Ne’shele, 15 and a junior staff member, represents the program’s positive effect. “I’ve come for six years, and the kids always bring a smile to my face. The staff is also great and helps me with my homework and problems. Because the program has helped me, I hope to get my doctorate, become a psychologist, and help people,” she says.

More kids will be able to participate when a larger 9,300-square-foot center with nine tennis courts and one basketball court opens next 2008. Washington oversaw the $3.5 million capital campaign and personally contributed $125,000 and 5,000 hours to the effort. “I’ve always wanted to be more than a one-dimensional sports person,” he says.

Washington is one of 10 finalists for REALTORŪ Magazine's Good Neighbor Awards, a grant program recognizing REALTORSŪ who make exceptional volunteer contributions to their communities. Of the 10 Good Neighbor finalists, five winners will receive $10,000 grants for their community projects and will be honored at the REALTORSŪ Conference & Expo in Las Vegas on Nov. 14. The remaining five finalists will receive $2,500 grants for their cause.

You can contact MaliVai Washington at Washington Properties, LLC, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL; 904/273-6398; MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation is located at 2933 N. Myrtle Avenue, Suite 101; Jacksonville, FL 32209; 904/301-378;

— REALTORŪ Magazine Online

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