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Online Exclusive:Serving Up More Than Tennis

By Philip Walzer

A rare genetic disease enlarged Adam Slone's spleen and liver and severely limited his activities as a young boy. But when he was 12, he was allowed to play tennis.

"It became a safe space for me," Slone '87 said.

Slone played for hours and hours. He pushed himself to become the top-ranked player at Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach and helped lead the team to the state title.

"Tennis really saved my life," Slone, 57, said. "It made me feel like I was as good as everybody else. Prior to that, I felt like a misfit."

The lessons Slone learned from tennis - resilience, work ethic, rebounding from failure - also powered him through the early struggles of starting his business, Slone Partners, now one of the nation's leading recruitment firms for executives in life sciences and biotechnology.

Slone wanted other children to benefit from that experience, so in 2015, he founded Life Serve Youth Foundation, which provides a free summer tennis sleepaway camp for low-income youths. Slone said it's the only camp of its kind in the country.

"Our Life Serve kids have developed incredible self-confidence," Slone said. "We teach them about leadership, about not letting anybody tell them they can't do something."

The camp, in upstate New York, enrolls 60 to 70 12- to 17-year-olds who already know the fundamentals of the game. They're from New York, Boston and rural areas in between. They stay for two weeks and receive three hours of tennis instruction daily from coaches including tennis pros and a former Junior Davis Cup player.

The students, Slone said, "are largely kids of color." At the start, most of the tennis coaches were white. Now, "most of our teaching pros look like our kids," and several are former campers.

Life Serve provides more than tennis lessons.

"Meditation is a huge part of my life," Slone said, "so we incorporate meditation every day. They can use it when something doesn't go their way. They can go back, assess their mistakes, turn around and focus on the next point."

The camp also offers sessions on leadership development, healthy eating, financial literacy and college planning, among other topics. Counselors take the students on day trips for hikes, concerts and nature exploration, where they build deer blinds.

"Prior to coming to camp, many of the kids have never seen a lake or a mountain," Slone said. "Some have never left New York or Boston until now."

Slone, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is at all the camps. He leads sessions and hits balls with the students for more than an hour every day. "I grew up in a middle-class family," he said. "We didn't have a lot of extra money, so I know what's it like not to have an opportunity to get tennis lessons."

Surveys have shown that 68% of campers gained confidence in their ability to succeed in life, and 74% feel more knowledgeable about proper nutrition and feel more physically fit.

"I'm super-proud of what we're doing," he said. "With hard work and consistency and discipline, they're learning they can achieve anything they want."

To donate or for more information on Life Serve Youth Foundation, go to lifeservetennis.org

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