Arlene Clark just wanted to give back.
She had gone to college on scholarships back in a time when society didn’t expect women to have such interests. She got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“I kept thinking, ‘someday I want to give back because this has really changed my life,’ ” she said.
The Arlene Clark Tennis for Kids Scholarship is a tool that is giving back to the community in the form of helping kids get on a tennis court and learn the game of a lifetime.
Clark, 82, said (though she didn’t like doing the math) she has been playing tennis for 70 years — and is still doing it.
Game of a lifetime indeed.
“I have a few mountains left to climb yet too, so I’m not giving up,” Clark said.
Many players in the area, and many who no longer live here, can say they learned the game from Clark be it on courts at Vancouver Tennis Center or Club Green Meadows.
It was through her teaching tennis Clark discovered not all the kids she was around could afford tennis lessons or court time. Along with former VTC manager Kevin Young, Clark asked some of the adults if they’d be willing to support a kid learning the game. Events were held, namely “Seniors for Juniors” that would raise anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000 in a three-hour session to be given out as scholarships for kids ages 9 to 18.
When Clark retired from tennis teaching in 2000, Young named the fund for Clark and it still continues.
The scholarship recipients are given a membership to VTC along with all the benefits that come from that in addition to the tennis lessons.
VTC head tennis pro Sanja Lemes was one such recipient. She moved with her family to the United States in June 1998 as refugees from the war in Croatia. She was a high school sophomore at the time.
“My parents came here with nothing,” Lemes said. “To be able to continue to compete here my parents needed a bit of help.”
Lemes was introduced to Clark, and the scholarship allowed Lemes to play tennis at VTC and work with Young and Hector Mendoza. She became a top junior player in the Northwest and eventually earned a full-ride to the University of Portland where she played collegiately.
“I tell people with pride that I was on (Clark’s) scholarship (at VTC) and I make sure I refer every kid in need to get the scholarship,” Lemes said. “Everyone sometimes needs a helping hand. Arlene’s scholarship was my chance to continue practicing and earn a (college) tennis scholarship and for that I will always be grateful.”
VTC continues to be a big draw for kids tennis programs. When former U.S. pro James Blake came to visit early November, the courts were packed for the youth day activities.
“It’s great to have such a strong community here at Vancouver Tennis Center that is supporting these kids,” said Monica Baker, who is operations manager at VTC along with managing the scholarship fund. “We are at a point now where we have so many applications come in we can’t fill them all. So there is a need.”
With the United States Tennis Association Pacific Northwest Section taking over operations at VTC in September, giving to the scholarship fund is made easy through the website https://give.ustapnw.org, clicking on donate and selecting the Arlene Clark Scholarship. For the time being, those interested in applying for a scholarship still need to pick up an application in person at VTC.
“I think people want to give, but maybe don’t know how or don’t know the opportunity is there,” Baker said. “The VTC Foundation does a great job raising money for the facility and scholarship program and we work with them closely.”
The USTA is a non-profit organization, so donations are tax deductible. Baker also said there are also opportunities for corporations to help as well.
“We want to maintain this as a true community hub,” Baker said. “Arlene is a great example of the awesome people that made this place what it is. People love this place.”
That is something Clark agrees with.
“This is a perfect time. Get the kids out here in January,” she said. “Just get involved. You’ll love it.”
Scholarship available at Evergreen Tennis
Evergreen Tennis in Camas also has a foundation that raises funds to help junior tennis players in the community. The Evergreen Tennis Foundation Scholarship was started in 2016 by Camas High student Andrew Lee as his senior project. Donations to this fund are also tax deductible.
The club also has tennis tournaments four times a year to help fund the scholarship. The next tournament is scheduled for Jan. 28.
Scholarship guidelines and application can be found at https://www.evergreentennis.net/foundation.html.
Evergreen Tennis is located at 5225 NW 38th Ave., in Camas.