Nestled in between Girard Avenue and the redeveloped Richard Allen Homes lies the Althea Gibson Community Education and Tennis Center, an education and sports based program that services between 300 and 500 youths a year.
The facility, open year round, offers after-school and summer programs for youth between the ages of 8 and 17, including academic programs, chess and tennis.
“The center gives kids an opportunity to engage in tennis and fitness,” said executive director Mark Ross. “We also offer educational opportunities like a tutoring program, and summer camp.”
The center, which opened in 2007, caters to youth from areas in and around Philadelphia and the tri-state area. Dawn Levi, who lives in South Philadelphia, brings her 10-year-old son Eli and 8-year-old daughter Annabelle to the center regularly for one-on-one sessions.
“We wanted something that was kind of low-key for this age group that they could do regularly,” the mother of three said. “We came for a couple of lessons and we just fell in love. It’s a great facility. It’s kind of like a hidden gem.”
Unfortunately, many of the residents in the neighborhood have not taken advantage of the facility or simply do not know about it.
“A lot of these young parents just won’t bring their kids,” said Melvin “Pee Wee” Reese, head tennis pro. “I started off giving lessons for $5 indoors and there were a lot of people coming. The next week nobody showed up.”
Christian Hill, head tennis pro of the Chris Hill Tennis Academy at the center, said he hopes to bridge the gap between the center and the community.
“Our next goal is to really get the kids from this immediate community involved in tennis,” Hill said. “I want to get as many kids in this community exposed to sports they really haven’t been exposed to.”
The center is preparing to hold tryouts this fall specifically for kids in the surrounding community.