A tennis player since the age of twelve, Jerome Jones rose through the ranks of the USTA SoCal and National circuits, reaching number one in SoCal before going on to win an NCAA doubles title at Pepperdine. Now, his work as Executive Director of First Break Academy helps to create new generations of passionate tennis players.
“A lot of programs talk about huge numbers and exposing thousands and thousands of kids to tennis. That’s not us,” he said recently. “We would rather see sixty to seventy-five kids a month and make an impact on those kids. To ensure that we can continue to be that impact organization.”
The origins of Jones’ experience in community tennis started with Arthur Ashe’s Safe Passage program which aimed to teach children tennis as a sport and a life skill. Jerome worked with Ashe’s wife Jeannie and became the Executive Director of the foundation in Los Angeles, based at Cal State Dominguez Hills. “We used tennis as the hook to get the kids attention,” Jones said, “and these are kids from disadvantaged communities. We use tennis to get their attention and we focused on more important things like education life skills.” Down the road, Jones took a lot of what the safe passage program stood for and continued this work with First Break.
Aside from giving kids access to tennis through classes, fitness training and junior player mentor programs, First Break also provides educational and experience-focused events to children in the Carson, Compton, and Gardena areas. Jones elaborated on the variety of programming that First Break provides: “We always try to mix in guest speakers, field trips, talk about current events, put positive role models in front of the kids. We try to be a lot more than just tennis teaching.”
First Break is unique in that not only does it go deeper than just tennis but has the target of being an instrumental figure in the lives of a smaller group of children as opposed to having a limited impact on a large number of kids. First Break’s approach is focused on the love of the game, and on reaching children who wouldn’t normally be playing tennis. Jones passion for the game comes through clearly in his voice. “I’m a tennis guy,” he stated. “I have a vast experience in the game from a player to a businessperson in the game. So, I’m able to use my world to influence young kids and teach them. And I just love doing that. That’s what I enjoy.”
Jones emphasized integrity and having the right people in the program. “We’re always looking for competent volunteers, whether it’s on the court, if someone has a specialty, special talent that they’d like to volunteer with. For instance, right now I’m looking for somebody that can update to help me with updating our website, I’m looking for a bookkeeper. So, we’re always looking for people with various talents, to help where they can.” Despite a desire for more funding and for more qualified and dedicated volunteers, First Break Academy aims to maintain a commitment to the children it does serve, to provide a consistent and meaningful experience through tennis.