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Racquet Up Detroit: The game of squash provides youth development opportunities for kids

By Leslie Green from Crain’s Content Studio

Participants in Racquet Up Detroit play squash, but the nonprofit offers far more than a chance for youth to rally on an inner-city court.

The education and opportunity hub provides kids as young as fifth grade with squash instruction and competition, academic enrichment, character development, health, wellness, nutrition and fitness activities and education.

It also offers them an opportunity to see what’s happening in other parts of the country throughout-of state competitions, camps, and educational partnerships.

“We find what inspires a young person, then put the foot on the gas so they can pursue it,” said Racquet Up Executive Director Derek Aguirre. “It’s a holistic program, and our team does a great job of making every kid feel special.”

The nonprofit’s mission complements The Children’s Foundation’s expanded goal of addressing the needs of children and families through positive youth development. Such programs help young people learn self-regulation and self-efficacy and promote social, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral competence.

They enhance the strengths of children and adolescents, empower them to develop positive relationships and leadership skills and provide resources critical for successful futures.

Racquet Up Detroit, located on the city’s westside, aims for each of its more than 100 students to graduate high school and enroll in college. So far, it has been successful.

The nonprofit, which started in 2010, leads to post-secondary success because students can “demystify things” with new experiences in other regions of the country.

Through Racquet Up, two Detroit students spent a month at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in

New Hampshire. As a result, they received full scholarships to high school at University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods. And after competing in a squash game in Philadelphia in April, a Racquet Up student decided to venture out of state and enroll at Chatham University, a private college in Pittsburgh.

Racquet Up boasts seven collegiate squash players.

“For many of our kids, our program is why they flew (on an airplane) for the first time or stayed away from home for the first time,” Aguirre said.

Recognizing the positive impact the program has on youth, The Children’s Foundation provided $40,000 to support the construction of a café and the addition of a full-time squash and fitness coordinator. The coordinator mentors and teaches students who are suffering from obesity about nutrition.

“Health and wellness are why we exist,” Aguirre said. “The grant kicked in during the heart of the pandemic, and The Foundation hung in with us during very trying times. They really do act like a partner and collaborator. They are here to help us do what we need to do.”

In addition to squash, the nonprofit offers yoga, Tai Chi, Safe Space talks and cooking demonstrations. Through the Detroit Food Academy, children have learned the importance of clean cooking and how to make chicken tenders and ranch-style dressing.

“When we visited the Racquet Up space originally, we were so very impressed with the students studying and then getting ready to play squash,” said Larry Burns, president & CEO at The Children’s Foundation. “It was such a positive environment that we had to create a partnership. And now, we’re delighted to be supporting their new space and a program helping youngsters.

Help us improve the health and wellness of more children and families.

You can help us reach more children and families by making a gift to The Children’s Foundation. Click here to make your gift.

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