Vancouver Tennis Center launches Love Serving Autism

The Vancouver Tennis Center is offering Just Serve Autism classes, featuring professional instruction for children with special needs. Here Stefan Lagielski, associate head pro, poses with Evan Tooley and Alexandria Bauer during a session last week. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Vancouver Tennis Center is offering Love Serving Autism classes, featuring professional instruction for children with special needs. Here Stefan Lagielski, associate head pro, poses with Evan Tooley and Alexandria Bauer during a session last week. Photo by Paul Valencia

Tennis instruction for children with special needs is available

Paul Valencia
ClarkCountyToday.com

It is a simple philosophy at the Vancouver Tennis Center.

“I think everyone should play,” said Sanja Lemes, director of tennis and delivery for the United States Tennis Association, Pacific Northwest at the VTC. 

Last week, the Vancouver Tennis Center launched Love Serving Autism, with tennis instruction for children with special needs. 

For Lemes, this is personal. She recalled, years ago, mentoring an autistic child. She said no one was giving him a chance. Then he became an excellent tennis player. She wants everyone to get the opportunity.

“We always want to expand in our community and serve as many people as we can,” Lemes said.

Love Serving Autism has five more classes in this launch, with sessions every Friday. There is a session for children ages 5 through 10 and another for ages 11 through 18.

Alexandria Bauer waits her turn as Evan Tooley takes a swing at a Just Serve Autism tennis last week at the Vancouver Tennis Center. Photo by Paul Valencia
Alexandria Bauer waits her turn as Evan Tooley takes a swing at a Love Serving Autism tennis class last week at the Vancouver Tennis Center. Photo by Paul Valencia

Parents who were there for the first week’s clinic were impressed.

“We’re really excited for any opportunities for our kiddos to learn new skills, especially in social situations,” said Sara Bauer, mother of Alexandria Bauer. “Autism can make those situations really intimidating.”

Kellie Tooley was watching her son Evan on the tennis court, receiving instruction from a professional coach.

“For us, the most important thing for finding an activity for Evan to do is him being able to be with peers who are like him, where he is able to come here and be himself,” Tooley said. “A child with special needs is not necessarily going to handle sports the way that a neurotypical child is going to handle sports. It’s really amazing that the Vancouver Tennis Center has come in and decided to start this program, just something different than your regular softball or baseball. I hope the program is successful and they keep doing it.”

According to the VTC, Love Serving Autism teaches children with intellectual and developmental disabilities communication and life skills for functional independence on and off the courts. 

Lemes said the VTC has a number of programs that benefit the community. Senior citizens get free court time two days a week. The center is looking into classes for the visually impaired, with smaller rackets and tennis balls that make noise. 

The Vancouver Tennis Center also asks its members to donate tennis equipment and attire for local high school players to use every year.

“We’re here to make everyone play the game of tennis because it’s the healthiest game in town,” Lemes said.

There is a fee associated with the Love Serving Autism program, but Lemes said many VTC programs have scholarships available for those in need.

“If kids can’t afford to play, we’re going to help them out,” Lemes said. “We’re going to find a way.”For more information on Love Serving Autism, and other offerings at the Vancouver Tennis Center, go to: https://pnwtenniscenters.com/Vancouver/


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