It’s been far too long since I have featured an incredibly awesome non-profit here on The Sent. Welcome Squash Haven. This non-profit based out of New Haven (a city I hold near and dear to my heart after living there for 4 years of college) is taking inner-city students and introducing them to organized sports – squash in particular – and the many attributes the sport can bring into a young persons life. Teamwork, good sportsmanship, and working hard are all things focused on as Squash Haven works with these young students both on and off the courts. There is a strong academic element to the program and their main goal is to help their committed students stay in school and eventually matriculate to secondary schools and then college. The statistics clearly show just how successful they have been since they began 8 years ago. Keep reading to learn why Squash Haven is a non-profit worth knowing.
Q&A with Julie Greenwood, Executive Director of Squash Haven
What is Squash Haven and who do you serve?
Squash Haven provides comprehensive and individually directed academic enrichment and squash instruction to New Haven public school students in fifth grade through high school. Through intensive tuition-free academic and squash sessions at Yale University, Squash Haven supports New Haven youth to achieve school success, physical fitness, athletic excellence, and access to compelling academic and summer opportunities, all with an eye towards college.
The keys to Squash Haven’s success are our multi-faceted approach of year-round intense squash instruction, differentiated individual tutoring, group academic enrichment, and community service. In our first eight years, Squash Haven has helped New Haven students earn 34 national-level squash championships, 14 private-school scholarships, and over $750,000 in annual renewable school and summer financial aid.
Squash Haven relies on a small full-time staff whose work is supplemented by the volunteer efforts of Yale’s squash teams and academic volunteers. New middle school students are chosen annually on the basis of their motivation and commitment. We currently serve 100 students in grades 5-12 and 20 in college.
What kind of growth have you achieved since you began?
We began with 20 students in 5th and 6th grades in 2007-08 and this year will serve 100 kids in 5th-12th grades as well as our first 20 program alumni/ae who are in their first and second years of college.
Can you share one or two powerful examples of how you are changing the lives of deserving young people in your area?
I like to think that we are not changing lives as much as we are providing talented and motivated young people with the skills, support, and access they need to realize their dreams and choose the lives they want. Certainly we have seen – and continue to see – our kids through great successes as well as great hardship. I would say that our first class of students graduating and going to college was among my most proud moments, but I honestly believe that the beauty of this work is as much in the small daily successes as it is in the bigger milestones. We try to build a culture of effort and excellence, and the cumulative effect of that on a daily basis is powerful.
How can people help Squash Haven?
Like any small non-profit, we would not exist without the help and generosity of a strong and committed family of Board members, donors, and volunteers. Financial contributions are always welcome and can be put to immediate use.
Outside of contributing financially, the primary way people can get involved is through volunteering. At every practice, the work of our staff is supplemented by the efforts of volunteer tutors and coaches, including every member of the Yale varsity squash teams and volunteer tutors from the Yale and New Haven communities. In addition, volunteers help as mentors, individual tutors, and with season needs including SAT tutoring, taking kids on college visits, and more.
Anyone interested in connecting with the program is welcome to contact me at [email protected]. You can also learn more on our website, by watching our video, and by visiting our Facebook and Instagram pages.
What do students learn from squash (sports in general) and why is it a key part of the process for your students?
Squash is a wonderful vehicle for teaching and emphasizing the skills that will be essential for team members in their academic careers as well as in the professional world. In order to develop as a squash competitor, students need self-control, perseverance, curiosity, and resilience. As part of a team, students develop positive friendships and learn both teamwork and leadership.
In addition to the skills students learn through squash, there are several other attributes of the game that make it particularly well-suited to our model. First, it is an incredibly demanding cardiovascular sport. At a time when childhood inactivity and obesity are on the rise, team members are getting critical health benefits through participation. In addition, squash is played at some of our country’s most elite colleges and universities. My Academic Director always says that squash is the carrot, and if our kids want to play squash in college, they absolutely know they need to have As and Bs.
How is your school placement after the program?
As much as I believe that the skills student learn at Squash Haven are critical to their success, I also believe that our efforts to connect interested students to opportunities are equally – if not more important – than the daily skills they acquire. We very intentionally build a culture of applying for additional competitive opportunities throughout students’ time in the program, so our placement includes support for summer opportunities, extracurricular school year programs, independent school applications, and college applications.
Beginning in middle school, all team members submit applications for Yale’s Ulysses S. Grant summer program. Summer partnership with Grant and other programs including Choate, Exeter, Taft, and Tabor, among others, send about 30 students to competitive summer academic opportunities every year.
Through the sport of squash, our kids are exposed to independent schools, and for some team members and their families, they represent a compelling high school option that enhances support for our long term goal of college matriculations and graduation. Each year several team members apply and team members have attended independent schools on scholarship. Students have attended Berkshire, Brooks, Canterbury, Episcopal, Ethel Walker, Hamden Hall, Hopkins, Loomis Chaffee, Pomfret, St Mark’s, Suffield, and Westover. Beginning in ninth grade, all of our team members become part of a rigorous college preparatory program that includes academic enrichment designed to prepare team members for college reading and writing, college visits, application and financial aid support, college counseling, and more.
Our college placement efforts with our first three classes have met – and are meeting – with great success. Students are attending Connecticut College, Dickinson, Hamilton, Lafayette, Mt Holyoke, St Lawrence, Skidmore, UCONN, and Villanova, among others, and our acceptances so far this year are strong. Now our efforts are expanding to include not just college access but college success, meaning that students transition effectively, graduate within six years, and are building skills they will apply to their workforce entry.
What feedback have you gotten from your parent-body and students once they are a part of the program?
We frequently solicit informal parent and student feedback and formally survey both parents and students once annually. Feedback is almost uniformly positive.
Here is a sampling of feedback from our 2014-15 surveys:
Over 90% of Squash Haven students in 2014-15 reported that Squash Haven helped them in the following ways: commitment to learning, desire to do well in school, preparation for their academic future, friendships with others from different backgrounds, making good decisions, independence, feeling connected to community, and overall development.
Over 90 % of Squash Haven families in 2014-15 reported that Squash Haven helped their children in the following ways: commitment to learning, desire to do well in school, preparation for their academic future, physical fitness, identifying positive role models, developing positive relationships with adults, developing positive values, making good decisions, and feeling optimistic about their future.
What’s next for Squash Haven?
There is always something to look forward to at Squash Haven. In 2014, we realized the objectives of our initial five year strategic plan a year early: a full complement of students in grades 9-12, expanded partnerships with schools throughout the city, a full time staff of six, and support through high school including college placement.
We are now in the second year of a strategic plan that is focused more on refinement than growth. Specifically, we want to make sure that our college students are well-supported and remain on track to graduate on time. We also want to make some key upgrades to current programming efforts: computer access for students during enrichment and in off hours as well, a van to allow us to travel more readily, and further strengthening of character and leadership development initiatives. We are also in the process of exploring staff benefits that will allow us to attract and retain talented staff over time. And finally, we focused on reaching the goal of a $1 million endowment by 2017 in order to help insure our long term financial stability.