After providing tennis lessons, tutoring and support to disadvantaged youth for more than 20 years on the Stanford University campus, East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring will have to find a new home in 2019. The university recently decided against renewing its contract with the youth nonprofit.
Kesha Weekes, academic director and middle-school group director for EPATT, said Friday that the university notified the nonprofit several months ago of its decision.
In a statement, the university said it requires more space to accommodate the "growing needs of the Stanford Athletics Department — including programming support for student-athletes and the expansion and creation of recreational and wellness programs for students and staff."
The decision is a blow to the longtime nonprofit, which has deep roots at Stanford. Jeff Arons, a former Stanford All-American tennis player, founded the organization as a summer tennis program in 1988 with the then-head men's tennis coach, Dick Gould (who still remains involved as an EPATT board member).
Over the years, the organization evolved into an academic program that now provides one-on-one tutoring by Stanford students, college visits, parent education, tennis instruction and other support services for about 120 elementary, middle and high school students from East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park each year.
East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring moved into Stanford's Taube Tennis Center in 1998.
The on-campus location has been invaluable to the nonprofit's mission of changing the trajectories of at-risk and underserved youth, Weekes said.
"We stress with our students and our families the importance of college and career readiness," she said. "What better platform from which to emphasize that message than being on a college campus?"
Being at Stanford helped to make college a more realistic, normal and comfortable goal for students, she said.
Being housed on campus also made it easier for Stanford students and staff to volunteer their time with the organization, Weekes said. The experience of making a tangible difference in students' lives — watching a young child go from struggling with reading and writing to graduating from high school, for example — was equally impactful for the tutors themselves, Weekes said. It exposes them to community service careers, which some tutors have gone on to pursue.
Weekes said nonprofits from around the country have visited East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring to model their own programs after it. As a Stanford alumna, she was "disappointed" by the university's decision to end this model.
"We have inspired programs at other small, large, elite, private, public universities to do the same thing because they recognize — what a great idea, bringing kids to a university," she said.
The EPATT board is currently "feverishly pursuing" options for a new home for the nonprofit, Weekes said. The goal is to move to East Palo Alto, where many of the organization's families live. This would increase access, Weekes hopes.
The nonprofit has a lengthy waiting list, and there are still some families who logistically can't get their children to Stanford for the program so aren't able to participate.
Having their own facility could also mean being more accessible to youth and community members who are not part of the program — such as a center that others could use, Weekes said.
"We can do more tennis for more people at more times; more tutoring for more people at more times." she said. "Opening up a facility where we control the hours gives us opportunity to serve more people without limitations."
She sees the end of East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring's tenure at Stanford as an opportunity to think strategically about the next phase for the nonprofit — "not just to replicate what we've done here but to grow … and deepen the work that we've done."
In 2015, East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring launched a pilot early literacy program in partnership with the Palo Alto school district. That serves about 15 students annually, according to the nonprofit. There is also an East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring summer program.
Weekes stressed the gratitude EPATT feels for Stanford's support, in facilities and otherwise. The organization hopes to maintain a strong cohort of student tutors, as well as a positive relationship with the university.
"Twenty years at Stanford is really a privilege and we're grateful every student has been able to benefit, every Stanford student and staff member who has also reaped the benefits of being involved," she said. "Now, it's time for a new chapter in the story of our program."
University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said that in recent years, Stanford has ended agreements with other organizations when it needed athletics facilities for "campus uses."