GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — For more than 50 years, Premier Athletic and Tennis Club has been serving people of all ages and abilities in West Michigan. Now it faces an uncertain future unless it can raise millions of dollars.
“A lot of older folks come here almost daily for their exercise. There’s lots of school programs here, there’s youth tournaments here, there’s college programs,” Lucian Labozzetta, tennis coach and volunteer youth mentor, said.
Although Premier (formally Ramblewood) has been around for decades, the club has changed part of its mission by providing tennis instruction as a chapter of the National Junior Tennis & Learning Network supported by the United States Tennis Association. It also allows the nonprofit West Michigan Community Tennis (WMCT) to operate out of its facility.
WMCT has been serving the Grand Rapids community for seven years. It provides free or low-cost tennis and learning instruction. Being at Premier has allowed them to serve a new community and focus more specifically on underserved youth and adults in the Wyoming-Grandville area.
The nonprofit also partners with local schools for after-school programs.
“I think that the focus on physical health along with academic health is really important in this program,” Lael Mulder, principal of AnchorPoint Christian School, said.
Fifth and sixth-grade students at her school were invited to participate in a free four-week after-school program during the month of May. The program was run completely by volunteer mentors and provided tennis instruction, homework help and snacks.
“(The students) wouldn’t have learned tennis if they weren’t here, and they’re excited to have somebody pay attention to them in the community,” Mulder said. “We want to raise and grow up children that can go out into the world and do great things, and this is a starting point for that.”
“I think it’s an awesome program to connect schools and inspire kids to try a new sport that they haven’t tried before, as well as a sport that we probably couldn’t afford to play if it weren’t for this,” Kimberly Omanchi, parent, said.
WMCT also provides an indoor wheelchair and adaptive tennis program, something most other facilities in West Michigan don’t have the time or space for.
Despite the positive impacts the nonprofit is having in the community, its future is uncertain. Property managers plan to demolish Premier to build new apartments unless WMCT can raise $3 million to buy the property.
“If it changes hands then it’ll be gone,” Labozzetta said. “It’ll change the complete service, everything. It won’t be a tennis facility anymore. That would hurt the older folks that come in here quite a lot and all the programs for the high school kids, even the college has practices here and things like that.”
WMCT has until May 30 to raise the funds to purchase the building and the team has been working hard to reach that goal. Nonprofit leaders hope that even if people don’t directly benefit from the programs they’ll step up to support those who do.
“It might not help you directly, but it helps a lot of folks that you might be associated with,” Labozzetta said. “There is a good purpose here, so if we can keep it going, that’d be great.”
If you are interested in supporting WMCT and its mission you can find more information, including a link to donate here.