Andy Roddick’s foundation has teamed with Pecan Springs Elementary to provide out-of-school-time programs.
He forged the champion’s trail in one of the most intense individual sports, but in his retirement, tennis star Andy Roddick is all about teamwork at the foundation he started at age 18. Fifteen years later, the Andy Roddick Foundation has evolved from a vehicle for generous grants supporting other nonprofits to an agency for change with its own programming and mission: Find ways to engage children from low-income families to fill the critical hours when they’re not in class. A huge November event in Austin, including a celebrity golf tournament and a masquerade party, will raise funds for the cause.
“I’m proud of the transition to something personal and lasting,” says Roddick not long after the foundation wrapped its six-week Summer Learning Program at Pecan Springs Elementary, which it launched last year after intense research into where the community’s biggest needs were. What it found: Children in struggling communities here don’t have many viable options for “out-of-school time” in the summer, according to CEO Richard Tagle, who was hired by Roddick in 2013 soon after the tennis player retired and decided to focus more on ARF.
With 30 years of experience in youth development, Tagle learned that “summer is the sweet spot if we really want to make a difference,” he says. Students forget what they learn if they don’t stay engaged; it can take weeks into the school year to catch up, which has a cumulative effect. So this summer, the 1950s-era Pecan Springs building morphed into a global wonderland, with each week devoted to a different country. Roddick visited when the kids were exploring Australia. Direct and friendly, the former No. 1 tennis player in the world folded his 6-foot-2 frame into a plastic chair in between two boys to admire their aboriginal art, played a round of handball with a girl in the gym, and then joined some other children outside as they watched members of the US Australian Football League show off their skills.
Roddick boasts of the passion and ability of ARF’s staff and board, including the legendary Billie Jean King and Austin’s Steve Kuhn, who encouraged Roddick to try a four-week soccer, tennis, and golf pilot program for 40 children this summer at the Austin Tennis Center. “It was [Kuhn’s] brainchild, and it worked great,” Roddick says. Seeing his programs come to life inspires Roddick; he even spoke on the Capitol steps in February to push legislators for more support for out-of-school-time programs. And with the foundation’s programs up and running, it makes his job at his popular annual gala a little easier.
“[I was] selling people an idea for a long time to raise money, and now for it to actually come to fruition, it’s the easiest thing for me to get in front of our donors at the gala,” he says. May’s gala, with Sir Elton John performing as he does every other year, was the biggest yet.
ARF is now focusing on its after-school grant programs as well as the next five years: Tagle and Roddick hope to partner with 10 schools by 2020. Driven by the belief that every child deserves an opportunity, Roddick says: “I by no means have any idea what [these kids] go through on a day-to-day basis, but I do know that talent is universal; opportunity is not. We’re trying to fill that gap.”