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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

It’s Our Turn

The first summer he came to TLC, he did not smile.  Once.  He left and I remember wondering how he would navigate this world.

Russell was a camper on scholarship when TLC first became a non-profit in 2011.

When he returned on scholarship the following summer, there was a powerful difference.  His smile was wide, beautiful, and frequent.   I was so struck, I mentioned this to him.  “Russell, you seem happier.”  He didn’t miss a beat. “I am,” he said.  I didn’t know how or why until I read the thank you note he wrote to the person who donated his scholarship, which Russell shared with me and gave permission to share with you.

Russell with some of his friends. Look at that smile!

Russell (right) with some of his friends. Look at that smile!

“My time at TLC has been life changing.  The instructors here have improved my game greatly.  They encourage positive attitude and good sportsmanship.  But most of all this camp has helped with my depression.  My views on life have changed. I have goals, and I want to help others just like you helped me.  I’m only a teenager and we don’t know each other, but your donation has impacted my life, possibly even saving it.  Thank you again for allowing me to go to TLC.  I will never forget here or you.”

When the donor received this thank you, he wrote me and said, “I want to give Russell another scholarship.”  I told him we couldn’t because of NCAA rules we had to abide by.

The donor wrote back and said, “Then I want to give a scholarship to another child like Russell.”  I wrote back and said, “That we can do.  We have hundreds who would benefit.”  And so he did.  And we did.

This donor will never meet Russell, and he might have saved Russell’s life.  And now, someone else will receive this person’s kindness.

Why?  Because Russell also gave.  By writing that thank you, Russell made it possible for another camper to be profoundly affected, the way he was.  And Russell will never meet that camper.  This is how it works.  When we give, the world is changed in positive ways we often don’t even know.

Steve and Barb Wilkinson started Tennis & Life Camps 40 years ago.  Many people thought they were crazy.  And, indeed, they were.

It’s our turn now.

Sunday night at our 40-LOVE Celebration commemorating 40 years of camps, we laid out the vision going forward, and it is ambitious.  Some would say crazy.  But we have had good role models in that department.

We – all of us – are the community who will ensure the mission of TLC going forward.

TLC is starting a campaign that will set kids up – and TLC’s operations – for success long after we are all gone.

We are calling it “40-LOVE: 40 Years. 40 Months. $4 Million.”

$2.5 Million Tennis & Life Endowed Scholarship Fund

  1. will go to endowing at least 200 full scholarships to families who could not otherwise attend.

$1 Million Wilkinson Legacy Endowment Fund

  1. will provide annual funds to help maintain first class tennis facilities

$500,000 Wilkinson Renovation Fund

  1. will allow us to replace the Swanson Tennis Center bubble which is nearing the end of its life span, and remodel the inside of the center. It’s going to shine.

When it’s all said and done, all tennis facilities on the Gustavus campus, current and future, will be collectively named Wilkinson Tennis Complex.  To remind us that crazy is good and will change the world.

Everyone can help! Learn more about giving a financial gift to TLC by clicking here (or e-mailing me). If you are not in a position to give financially, you can still be a supporter of the 40-Love campaign by practicing the Three Crowns with your teams and families, expressing gratitude to those around you for what they have meant in your life, and by your words of encouragement.

Russell is now in college and wrote me last week: “I am majoring in Game Design and Development: Computer Science, a career choice I would not have normally made. I credit places like TLC for giving me the attitude boost to shoot for my dreams, and I will forever be grateful.”

It’s our turn.  We get to do this.  Together.



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