Bent Tree Country Club's Craig Bell recently collected tennis donations for Collins Agwanda's foundation in Kenya. It's called Victoria Tennis Academy, and the need for all things tennis, from visors to socks to jackets to rackets, was great. So Fort Worth-Dallas players gave Bell mounds of items, and Bell sent them on to Agwanda.
This was no small affair, and it wasn't cheap, either. But Bell handled it with his usual poise and focus, and now a lot more of us know Agwanda. I enjoy following his efforts via Facebook, where you can see photos of the African children playing tennis, although not in the luxury we enjoy here. We are lucky, and I'm sure we all know that.
Bell's efforts reminded me of a man I met when the idea of having a Fort Worth-focused tennis website was first proposed to me a year ago. We had a need for a website that would give us news, notes, stories, photos, etc., about Greater Fort Worth, and the first story I heard about was one I have kept in my back pocket this entire time. Well, its time has come, and all because of Craig Bell and Collins Agwanda--and good timing, as this is the time of year when generosity is at the forefront of many a mind.
Here's what I'm talking about: When the idea of TennisFortWorth.com was put forth, my husband (and webguy) and I went to Walnut Creek Country Club to sit down with tennis director Ernie Abraham and with USTA Texas representative Laura Gilbert. We talked about the many local stories that hadn't been written about because there was nowhere to put them; the newspapers give little space to tennis--not their fault; newspapers have shrunk, so space comes at a premium--and there was no local website at the time.
Abraham told us about a man who works at Walnut Creek in several capacities and also plays USTA-league tennis there. His name is Alvaro "Al" Aristizabal, and he tried to do something selfless about a year ago--just as Bell did--although it had a different ending.
Aristizabal, who works mostly in club maintenance, told Abraham that another maintenance worker named Santiago Gomez was collecting old tennis balls outside of the courts (he had amassed about 200 at the time) to take to Mexico for juniors at three churches. Aristizabal hoped Abraham could come up with old rackets and nets for Gomez to drive down to Mexico, too. The juniors were ages 7-16.
"The juniors draw lines in the dirt, make as good of a court as they can and use the nets to make a playing court," Abraham explained. "Each church could easily have 60 kids playing." They were also in need of the equipment and anything else that was tennis-related, so the Fort Worth Professional Tennis Association (FWPTA), of which Abraham serves as president, bought $500 worth of junior rackets from Head and Wilson to be sent down to Mexico.
With a big assist from family and friends, Gomez then loaded up three trucks with 1,500 used tennis balls, several boxes of new and used rackets, a couple of used nets, and even--get this--an old ball machine. And off they went.
Here's where the story takes a turn for the worse. Despite the fact that Gomez brought money to pay the border police so the group could take the donations to the Mexican churches, he told Aristizabal that the demands were too high at the border, so they couldn't take the donations across.
But the trip wasn't for naught: Gomez and his fellow drivers left some of the balls and rackets at small churches near the border, and then delivered the rest of the equipment to churches in Cleburne and Alvarado.
When I first met Aristizabal nearly a year ago, Gomez hadn't yet left for Mexico (the trip was last February). I told him to let me know how it went afterward and to take pictures, and he said he would. But when the trip didn't go as planned, despite the generosity of our local tennis pros and players, Aristizabal felt sad and didn't know what to tell me.
I told him that the fact they had worked so hard--they drove all the way down to the border in three trucks!--showed such dedication and determination that it meant just as much as if they had managed to make their intended deliveries. It wasn't their fault that the border police didn't work with them the way they had expected them to.
Aristizabal said Gomez's constant efforts to help others have made a strong impression on him. In fact, he calls Gomez "Recycle Man," because Gomez recycles everything useful that he can get his hands on--he even goes through trash looking for items others could use--because it makes him happy to serve people in need.
And that's one of the important themes of Christmastime: Helping those in need.
Thanks to Craig Bell, Collins Agwanda, Alvaro Aristizabal and Santiago Gomez for reminding me of that. Keep up the good work, guys. Happy-Merry to all.