You wouldn’t think that a North Shore tennis club and a shelter for victims of domestic violence have much in common — one is expensive and exclusive, one is, well, not. But College Park Athletic Club has partnered with House of Peace to support their efforts in providing temporary assistance to Latina victims of abuse.
House of Peace has been open and offering help to more than a thousand women and their children escaping domestic abuse since 2011, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that they found a permanent partner in College Park Athletic Club.
“This partnership started a few years ago, basically through the passion of the tennis players, the tennis community,” says Aida Segura, the director at House of Peace.
Denise Murphy, a tennis instructor at College Park Athletic Club and a member of the board at House of Peace, is credited with forging the initial bond between the two.
“It started with Denise Murphy,” says Brian Wu, the general manager at College Park. “She’s super passionate about the work that House of Peace was doing and wanted to raise some money.”
What started with a few charity tennis events has become a massive yearly fundraiser called Play Tennis for Peace, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars. But while Play Tennis for Peace was a fantastic event, it didn’t have the reach that House of Peace wanted.
“The further we went along we realized that we would always be kind of capped by how much money we could raise [at Play Tennis for Peace] because parents kind of dropped off the kids while we ran this tennis carnival thing,” says Julia Sierks, a volunteer at House of Peace. “So we were trying to figure out how to layer over it and create events to appeal to adults.”
The answer? A rock concert that College Park Athletic Club helped sponsor. The event was so popular that a second concert is in the works, with College Park as the marquee sponsor.
“We do probably five to 10 different charity events per year,” Wu says. “It’s just kind of part of our DNA. It’s just something that’s really important to us.”
Arguably the most impressive part about the partnership between College Park and House of Peace is how inextricable their connection is.
“At both places, I think [there’s] the sense that it’s a real community,” says Sierks. “There’s a real kind of teamwork outside of when you’re in between the lines hitting the ball. I feel like people join this club and stay there because the people are so committed to one another. That’s the same kind of community to make the people at House of Peace able to transform the lives of these people.”
More than just offering financial support, College Park has truly become part of the House of Peace community.
“Many people that are part of College Park Athletic Club are also now part of House of Peace,” says Segura. “They are very hands on. It has energized an extended community into being involved in a good cause and developing relationships with neighbors.”
On top of that, the children staying at House of Peace are afforded opportunities to get out of North Chicago and Waukegan (where the shelters are located) and engage in extracurricular activities.
“Their parents are thinking about shelter and food, not ‘What extracurricular activities can I enroll my child in?’” says Wu. “I have four young kids and I think about that on a daily basis. We’re lucky and fortunate, but these moms are thinking about much more dire things that a lot of us take for granted.”
Now, College Park is expanding past community engagement and contributing a new kind of support — by hiring the women staying at the home.
“They are able to offer jobs to our ladies while they are in this critical time, those six months of the transitional program that we host,” says Segura. “Some women stay longer and some women move on to other opportunities. We would like to develop new partnerships, expand partnerships, and talk about healing through the dignity of a job. It’s really been a wonderful partnership.”
And it truly is a partnership — Segura says that one of the best things about working with College Park is that help does not come from on high.
“This community is incredibly humanitarian, but not in a charitable way from above, they are very much — maybe because of the way tennis is played — they are very horizontal in the way they meet the people in vulnerable places,” she says. “I appreciate the energy the respect and the dignity that they have for us.”
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Jessica Suss is a native Chicagoan residing in Washington, D.C. She is currently getting her master’s degree in secondary English education at the University of Maryland. She enjoys petting other people’s dogs and is faithful to Lou Malnati’s alone. Jessica is also a supporter of MAZON and No Kid Hungry.