Firm Helps Nonprofit Teach Kids Tennis, Literacy and Life Skills

Firm Helps Nonprofit Teach Kids Tennis, Literacy and Life Skills

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For more than 10 years, WilmerHale has provided pro bono legal services to Tenacity, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that combines intensive tennis and literacy programming to improve the lives of urban youth. During that period of time, more than 40,000 Boston children ages 6 to 16 have benefited from Tenacity’s unique approach to building academic ability, improving fitness and teaching life skills. For the many WilmerHale attorneys who have assisted the organization, Tenacity is an example of the kind of success committed pro bono partnerships can build. From a modest beginning, it now has an annual budget of $3.2 million and 40 full-time employees with a summer staff of 150, including many youth who are working as part of the city of Boston’s summer employment program.

“It’s not just one case or one decision; we provide continuing service,” says WilmerHale Retired Partner Ernie Klein, one of Tenacity’s founding board members, who has watched the organization flourish over the years and has led the firm’s pro bono efforts on its behalf. “We’ve had more than 50 lawyers involved over time, and I’ve never had a problem with getting lawyers in the firm to help out. It’s an incredibly well-run organization that attracts people to it.”

Today, Tenacity conducts a summer program at 31 tennis facilities—many formerly abandoned—throughout greater Boston. During the school year, the organization runs an intensive after-school program in partnership with five Boston middle schools. It has also instituted a mentoring program to help students identify the public high school best tailored to their individual abilities, and a college scholarship program for Tenacity’s high school graduates. Altogether, more than 5,500 youth are enrolled in Tenacity’s programs each year.

Its accomplishments have been notable: 95% of the graduates of its after-school program graduate from high school, as compared to the overall Boston high school graduation rate of 58%. Of those who graduate high school, 80% go on to college or post-secondary education. Tenacity is the first sports-based youth development program to be named an official “Supplemental Education Services Provider” by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

“When you’re launching an organization like this, you’re just trying to raise enough money to survive, so a person in my position has less appreciation for the legal side of things,” says Ned Eames, Tenacity’s founder and president. “But then as the organization grows, you begin to see that the strength of the legal foundation that was put in place each step of the way is actually enhancing your ability to attract significantly more support for what you do. The excellent quality of legal work we’ve received from WilmerHale has been fundamental to our success over the past 10 years.”

The firm has completed a wide range of work for Tenacity, from the registration of its 501(c)(3) status in 1999 to implementing corporate governance changes this past summer. The firm’s intellectual property lawyers have handled trademark protections for the organization’s name and tagline—“Game. Set. Life.”—and our labor and employment lawyers have advised on human resources issues and employment contracts.

Doug Burton, a partner in the firm’s Real Estate Practice, handled the lease for Tenacity’s first office space—unusual for an office in that it featured a locker room where tennis instructors could change after their lessons. Several years later, he worked on another lease for Tenacity, and this past year helped the organization move into a new space owned by New Balance.

“It’s been wonderful to share in Tenacity’s achievements, and to see the impact that it’s had on the city,” he says. “It’s also been great to work with some of the other real estate lawyers on these leases, and to get young lawyers involved in matters where we can spend more time teaching and training.”

One of the beneficiaries of that training is Jill DiGiovanni, a second-year associate in the firm’s Corporate Practice, who has been attending Tenacity’s board meetings for the past year and assisting the organization with corporate governance issues. When the board decided to amend and restate its bylaws, she worked with its members to put together a draft and incorporate feedback into it; she then presented the changes to the board. She has also helped to draft other policies and worked with the board to implement them.

“In a way, it’s very similar to the work I would do with a non-pro bono client,” she says. “The important difference is that I get to be much more involved with Tenacity in terms of interacting with members of the board and members of management, which is really exciting. I’ve also been lucky to make a connection with Ernie, who I really enjoy working with. At the same time, this past summer I got to work with a summer associate who helped with the revision of the bylaws. For the first time in my career at the firm, I had the opportunity to work in a supervisory capacity, which was a great learning experience.”

Tenacity’s board members—among them WilmerHale clients—are appreciative of the work the firm has done. “I feel very comfortable as a board member that we are protected and have the right kinds of procedures in place,” says Bill Achtmeyer, chairman and managing partner of the Parthenon Group, a consulting group that is also a firm client. Achtmeyer has worked with WilmerHale since 1991, and will serve as incoming board chairman at Tenacity. “There’s a real structure that you know is designed to keep the long-term integrity of the organization intact.”

He adds: “A lot of WilmerHale attorneys have spent countless hours on Tenacity; they have been diligent, thoughtful, gracious and giving of their time. They’re incredibly professional and smart, and they care deeply about the success of the organization.”