What led you to found SquashDrive ten years ago? What motivates you in this work?
Squash has done so much for me throughout my life – it’s opened so many doors and presented me with so many opportunities. When I was in college, one of these urban squash programs, SquashSmarts, had just started and I volunteered for them, which was a defining experience for me. Nine years later I started SquashDrive, which gave me an opportunity to combine my passions for squash, education and community. That I’ve been able to do this as a job and to give back has been an amazing dream come true.
Ten years ago I was working in finance, not feeling inspired, and I wanted to do something different. I reached out to the squash community to see if there was interest in building this kind of program in the Bay Area. The initial conversations I had with various people excited me with the possibilities of what could happen.
I realized I would need three key things to make an urban squash program succeed: a strong Board and community network, kids, and a place to play. SquashDrive’s board and extended community formed with the help of many people, and their selfless support, help and connections have been game-changers. I found a principal of a school through a friend, which led to our partnership with Berkley Maynard Academy, giving us our incredible students. I banged on Cal’s door a thousand times, and became a volunteer coach for their women’s squash team to get a foot in the door. They generously allowed us to use their facilities.
With the unwavering support of more people than I can count, I was able to get all three pieces in place, and SquashDrive was born. I also had a lot of guidance and support from the Squash and Education Alliance (SEA) along the way, for which I’m extremely thankful. At the end of the day, the kids in the program are my main motivation – it’s been incredible to work with them and to watch them grow, learn and succeed.
What is SquashDrive’s mission and how does it work to achieve that mission?
Our mission is to create opportunities for underserved students, especially in Oakland, including academic supports, character building, and squash training. The mission has evolved over the past few months as our student participants can’t play squash due to COVID-19, but we are adapting to the current situation. A critical part of the program is to show kids things they wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed, to help them be the best version of themselves, to find the right fit for college, and to support them to and through the next chapter for their lives.
SquashDrive has a multi-pronged approach to achieving our mission. The kids are on the squash court for instruction 3 times per week. We give them group and individual tutoring to support them academically. We involved them in community service activities, to encourage them to give back to their community. Before COVID-19, we were taking them to squash tournaments across the country, and we hope to be able to do this again soon. Most importantly, we help them expand their worldview, and encourage them to step outside their comfort zones to explore and achieve their dreams.
How do sports – and squash specifically – help empower and encourage the community you serve?
I’ve experienced firsthand how much participating in sports has done for me, and how integral they are to my life. Being healthy and physically active allows the mind to have the ability to do other things. Playing sports and learning how to be a part of a team is also an essential life skill, and gives kids a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves. Squash in particular gives students great access to life opportunities while also being challenging and rewarding. It is both an individual and a team sport, and it requires individual focus and dedication, while also encouraging teamwork and camaraderie.
What makes SquashDrive’s approach unique compared with other youth sports outreach models in Oakland?
SquashDrive’s key differentiator is that we are a long term program that serves students year-round starting in 4th/5th grade with the goal of being with them through college. With nine years of programming, four years of college, and ongoing partnerships with the families, this is far more than just an after school program or a seasonal sport.
Kids come three times per week on average, and participate in squash and academics each time (one hour of squash, one hour of academics). We want to teach routine and discipline, and give kids a chance to excel at something.
How do you measure success?
We track a lot of things to measure our program’s success, and we are particularly proud of our attendance and retention rates. Kids are showing up on a consistent basis, at a rate of 90% each week and we have had good year over year retention. We also track our participants’ GPAs to make sure they are on track academically, and to provide them with tutors as needed to help ensure their academic success. Long term, we plan to track kids’ success in college and beyond. We’ve learned over the years that we are not always the right program for everyone, but kids who are dedicated, and who take advantage of the opportunities we offer are able to experience things that they might not have otherwise been able to explore.
Do you have any data you’d like to highlight about your organization?
We have a long term retention rate of 74%, and put a lot of emphasis on maintaining and growing this stat. We find we get a lot of siblings to participate in our program, which also points to families finding value in our program services.
In our first group of kids, 100% went to college. As time goes on, we are seeing academic goals and circumstances changing. Not all families can afford a four-year college, and the reality of remote learning is making it even more difficult to pay full tuition. We are realigning our focus to alternate routes and more scholarship opportunities.
What are SquashDrive’s biggest opportunities for the future?
SquashDrive would be able to make an even bigger impact if we had a home of our own. The opportunities here would be exponential. Right now we run our programming at the will of UC Berkeley, which poses scheduling and other challenges. Our next Executive Director needs to be confident and have the vision to get a capital campaign kicked off, while keeping the program up and running. We need a location and a physical space. Securing this would give us a unique opportunity to get more squash courts in the Bay Area. We also hope to grow partnerships with the community, and private groups to grow the game of squash in Northern California. And of course, we will continually be adjusting and adapting as things change with COVID-19.
What else should candidates know about Squash Drive?
SquashDrive has a terrific team, a supportive and engaged board, an amazing community that is excited to support this next person, and help SquashDrive continue. Above all, the kids are great! Our families are extremely appreciative of our support, but it’s truly the kids that keep me going.
We’re supporting SqushDrive in their search for the next great leader, to learn more or apply for the role visit our current opening page.