Daniel Stern’s passion for tennis began at a young age while he watched his two older sisters compete. Now the 17-year-old plays for the Weber School and has helped create a summer camp for kids with special needs.
After meeting Mike Pelta through the Friendship Circle, Stern discovered a connection and began spending time with his new buddy. The two met once a week and became inseparable until Pelta expressed interest in playing tennis with Stern.
Pelta’s interest in tennis and prior participation at the Marcus Jewish Community Center, combined with Stern’s stories from sleepaway camp, prompted Stern to create Serve It Up, which provides youths with special needs the opportunity to learn tennis while participating in a camp.
“I really connected with Mike, and when I saw he was having a good time, it gave me the idea that perhaps more people could get involved who may not necessarily have a chance to,” Stern said. “My parents have always volunteered and taught me the importance of giving back to the community.”
Stern reached out to Rickelle New, the director of the Friendship Circle, and Korie Kahn, program coordinator, to help promote the camp. The organization regularly speaks at Weber to recruit volunteers, and if people express interest, the organization pairs them with a buddy.
“I thought I could perhaps extend the program into the Friendship Circle and see where it goes,” he said.
Stern has started a GoFundMe page (www.gofundme.com/serveitup) as well as a racquet drive at his school, requesting donations of old racquets and tennis balls. Any extra money will go to the Friendship Circle.
The camp, at Sandy Springs Tennis Center, is scheduled to run July 24 to 27 at a cost of $20. Scholarships are available, and campers will be provided lunch.
“When Daniel approached us with the idea to run an affordable tennis camp for Friendship Circle kids, we knew we had to get behind it,” New said. “To have a high-schooler decide to take this initiative and make such an impact is unbelievable and something we wanted to support in every way we could.”
The camp will have one instructor for each student to teach basic tennis skills. Campers will be 5 to 20 years old.
“I want the campers to have a chance to be active and play with their families when they return home,” Stern said. While he is sponsoring the event, the Friendship Circle is helping with registration, advertising and staffing.
Fifteen people have registered so far, New said. “There are not enough opportunities out there for kids with special needs to attend camp and little to no affordable options without having to ask for scholarships.”
With his friend Evan Bloom, Stern continues to meet with Pelta every week. He thanked his friends from Weber and Epstein and the special events coordinator at the Sandy Springs Tennis Center, who donated two courts.
“It was a lot easier than I expected to have people who wish to help you out,” Stern said. “I didn’t get the sense of gratification from volunteering until I started participating in the Friendship Circle, and I hope volunteers feel they have contributed to a cause that will better the world.”
“I enjoy the idea of helping others, it’s a rewarding experience,” noted
Stern said he hopes to continue the camp throughout the year, then pass it on to new volunteers after he graduates from Weber.
“Daniel came up with the concept for the camp all by himself, and I think that’s one of the things that I am most proud of as a parent,” said his father, Mark Stern. “It’s very important for our family to give back to the community, and nothing makes me prouder than knowing Daniel is helping others.”