Friday, 23 April 2010 00:00
On Saturday, April 17, a bunch of teenagers put aside their weekend plans to play some tennis for a good cause. With the help of Roslyn Sportime, Long Island Tennis Magazine, and tennis pro Emilie Katz, Jericho High School eleventh-graders Samantha Debello and Amanda Hyman presented “Tennis Fun Night”, a pay-to-play tennis event for teens where all proceeds went to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless (LICH.) While the overall prognosis for homelessness on Long Island remains somewhat grim, the atmosphere of teens being moved to take time out from their lives to do something to help the less fortunate- and the conviction of Debello and Hyman in particular- couldn’t help but breed optimism for the future.
Initially, it was Hyman, who currently plans to go into psychology, who had the idea to get involved. Inspired by a documentary on the homeless that she saw over the 2009-2010 holiday break, she and her mother brought everyone together to discuss possible community service projects. Debello, who plans to major in a math or science related field in college, commented that it was the sight of homeless people within her own community that made her feel the need to do something. In February, The two girls attended the LICH “Have a Heart for the Homeless” Candelight Vigil, where all kinds of services were provided to homeless people, such as free haircuts, as well as an evening of entertainment.
Both girls emphasized that their idea of what “homeless people” were was shattered at the Vigil; while they were initially somewhat nervous to attend due to the depiction of homeless people as dangerous or mentally unstable in the media, once they were there, they realized how many homeless individuals were otherwise normal people, no different from themselves. It was that realization that lent the feeling of wanting to help a greater sense of urgency. “The Candelight Vigil was so inspiring, and afterward, we felt like we wanted to do even more,” said Hyman with obvious sincerity- she and Debello themselves completely defying the stereotype of the self-involved teen in the process of casting aside the stereotypes associated with the homeless.
Both girls had shared a love of tennis from a young age, and had recently played on the Jericho High School team during the fall season. Once they decided to arrange a fund-raising event around one of their favorite activities, everything seemed to fall into place.
Greta Guarton, executive director of LICH, helped Hyman and Debello put together the event, but emphasized that she was not responsible for Tennis Fun Night- that credit should go to the girls. “They did almost everything,” commented Guarton. While LICH has cooperated with individuals outside the organization before while coordinating events, the director was pleased to be approached, unusually, by two high school students.
“With the number of homeless people on Long Island on the rise, I think it’s just wonderful that young people have taken notice and are doing things like this to help raise awareness,” she said.
According to Guarton, unsurprisingly the homeless situation on Long Island has gotten considerably worse since the recession started. Not only has the sheer number of homeless people gone up, perhaps even more alarming is the fact that the amount of people who are seriously at-risk of losing their homes has increased dramatically. Unfortunately, the director commented that the situation will probably get worse before it gets better, since those among the unemployed who have barely been hanging on to their homes thus far may not be able to continue doing so if they can’t find jobs soon.
While Tennis Fun Night did not have a huge turnout, there were still plenty of students to fill many courts at the Roslyn Sportime on Saturday night. Additionally, LICH has confirmed that the efforts of the two girls in promoting the event have inspired more people to donate independently, meaning that the overall proceeds from the event were not determined solely by those who showed up racket-in-hand.
When asked if they had any plans for more community service projects in the future, Debello immediately mentioned a school supply drive to be held at an area Staples. Hyman confirmed that while the organizers of the Candelight Vigil did a great job collecting food and supplies for the homeless in general, school supply collection appeared to be the weakest area, leading the girls to realize that they could augment the program in one area where it was truly needed. The annual LICH S.O.S., or Supply Our Students drive, begins in July; Hyman and Debello plan to run their affiliated drive in the fall, the shopping season for school supplies.
In addition to holding annual events and drives like the “Have a Heart for the Homeless” Candelight Vigil and S.O.S., LICH helps homeless people find new homes, and furnishes those homes with donations of furniture housewares, and appliances. LICH also seeks to educate the public on the necessity of building emergency housing, and permanent low-cost housing. Members of the community who would like to help the homeless on Long Island by making a donation to LICH, or possibly organize their own fund-raising event, can go to the organization’s website at www.nsch.org, or call 742-7770 to reach the Nassau County office.