LOWER GWYNEDD >> A Touch Of Tennis, a free program for individuals with special needs or disabilities of all ages, kicked off its 19th year this month.

Jim Holt, a special education teacher at Wordsworth Academy and head coach of the Gwynedd Mercy University women’s tennis team, runs the program with the help of volunteers from the Gwynedd Mercy men’s and women’s tennis teams and men’s soccer team.

In the program, nearly 70 players meet on Wednesday nights on the Gwynedd Mercy University tennis courts and learn the basics of tennis and eventually move on to more challenging techniques.

“This isn’t all just about tennis and getting better at tennis, but a huge part of doing this is the fact that its social outlet,” Holt said. “Everybody coming together and most of them are having fun. It’s a good social outlet for a lot of them.”

The program has grown over the years after Holt appointed Sharon Bartle as a director about four years ago.

“She really brings an invaluable asset to the program,” he added. “She does a lot of behind the scenes stuff that people don’t even think about. She’s extremely proactive and really helpful and is very good organizationally.”

In 2010, A Touch of Tennis and Holt received the United States Tennis Association Adaptive Tennis National Community Service Award. This award is given to a program or program leader that has demonstrated continued excellence, dedication and tennis-related service for those with physical or mental disabilities.

“It was a major achievement for a program that is run strictly by volunteers of all ages,” Holt said. “It was equal to that of any college championship that I’ve ever won.”

Holt said he expects Gwynedd Mercy to build more tennis courts in the coming years, which would allow the program to expand even more.

“The program is a great melting pot of people from all different towns and areas, different backgrounds, the volunteers and the special athletes,” Holt said.

Peter Brzezinski, the head tennis coach of Gwynedd Mercy’s men’s team, has been volunteering for the program for over 10 years.

“I knew Jim growing up, and I played tennis and did clinics with him,” Brzezinski said. “He asked me to help out with the program, and I’ve always come back.”

“It’s fun helping out, everybody seems to have a good time, and it even makes you feel kind of good about yourself, too,” he said. “Seeing all the kids have a good time is my favorite part, that makes me want to come back every year.”

Sara Boyd, the daughter of Marianne Boyd, of North Wales, has been with A Touch Of Tennis since the start of the program 19 years ago.

Sara enjoys the program because it allows her to have fun without the pressure of her normal tennis program at the Special Olympics, where she plays matches and competes in tournaments, Marianne said.

“Sara enjoys this so much because it’s fun, and she just loves coming on Wednesday nights every summer,” Boyd said. “It’s just a fun, no pressure program. … A lot of these kids are under so much pressure all day, and it’s not competitive.

“Jim himself, he does this totally gratis,” she said. “There isn’t any pay, hardly any recognition, and we all love him. He does it for the love of the sport and the love of the kids, and that’s rare these days.”

A Touch of Tennis meets every Wednesday and runs from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. for six weeks; the session began June 27. The program meets at the Gwynedd Mercy University tennis courts, located at 1325 Sumneytown Pike in Gwynedd Valley. For more information, contact director Jim Holt at holt.j@gmercyu.edu or visit touchoftennis.blogspot.com.

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