New York City police officers are building relationships with at-risk youth in the Bronx through a unique tennis program. Every Friday night from 6 to 7 p.m., officers meet with kids to practice tennis at the Cary Leeds Tennis and Learning Center as part of the department’s community engagement program. The program is the result of a partnership between police, local schools and community organizations.
“Tennis brings us all together,” Matthew Ackah, a senior at AECI Charter School, told Fox 5 NY.
The 42nd Precinct Youth Community Tennis Program, created last year by Youth Coordination Officers Dili Jefferson and Jorge Bencosme, aims to create a safe space for at-risk youth to bond with local law enforcement through the sport.
“The officers do participate with us all the time — they always help us try to get better. I usually am a basketball player, I play track, football. I just decided to come here to play tennis to learn a new sport and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life,” Ackah added.
“We wanted them to have to try new sports besides basketball,” Jefferson said. “And also building bridging the gap between officers and them — so they can see that we’re just like them, we play sports, just like them. And this is in their own backyard — in the South Bronx. This is something that’s offered to them they should take advantage of.”
“All they have to do is get up, go to the park and we’re here for you guys,” Benscome said. “So that right there rewards me and my partner as well.”
Beleric Bacheco, a sophomore at John Jay College, connected with the program through the Explorers Program. “My favorite thing to do is just spend time with them. They are like a mother and father figure to us,” he said of the officers.
New York Junior Tennis and Learning organized the program with the NYPD officers. The program is open to all kids aged 12 to 17 from every precinct. The Cary Leeds Center also provides the racquets, courts and instruction to make tennis an accessible sport for kids.
Scott Hausthor, vice president of operations at the tennis center, said the program is very important for the local community.
“Being here in the Bronx, just understanding what tennis and education is, what we do, and then having the center in their backyard for them to take part in activities like this — I think it’s extremely important to be able to provide those resources to the kids,” Hausthor said.
Jefferson said that playing tennis with the kids is fun for officers, too: “I’ve been in this program for about a year now. I had the most fun — greatest time of my life here. And I remember when I first came here, I was a little bit nervous, but one of my co-officers, YCO Officer Jefferson, she told me to just take one shot here, give her one shot to bring me over here. And ever since that one time, I came over here and I went beyond my comfort zone. I loved it here.”
Jefferson added that the program has been successful so far, even with kids who were at first hesitant to associate with police.
“The most rewarding part is when they come back,” she said. “Some of the ones that we try to recruit are not fond of us because of the uniform. And we tell them, ‘Give me one try. Just come one day … and if you don’t like the program, I’ll find something else for you.’ But they keep coming back. Every single Friday. They come and they ask for more days. They want more time, and they look forward to the pizza at the end.”