The premier publication for high-quality, hyperlocal news and announcements in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Teen Scene

By Lori Draz and Jacqueline Rose Gray

Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

This month’s author is Rumson’s Jacqueline Rose Gray, a 17-year-old rising senior at Rumson-Fair Haven High School. In addition to being an avid tennis player, Jacqueline recently earned the highest rank in the Girl Scouts, the Gold Award. Her project combined her love of the sport with her innate desire to share her knowledge, encouragement and friendship with people from all walks of life. Here is Jacqueline’s story.

Growing up, we are told that we mature as we get older. I know that’s true, but I find it delightful and fascinating that it was 4-year-old me who shaped the way I live and continues to inspire me to this day.

On a brisk September day in New York City, I recall holding my dad’s hand as we walked from our apartment to my preschool down the street. What I thought was a regular day in “the yellow room” became a turning point, a precious memory that inspires me every day. While playing with my friends, I noticed someone new across the room. I immediately walked up to him and introduced myself with a hug, which seemed to be the norm in preschool. However, this boy did not return my hug nor say anything. My teacher told the class that he had just come to America from Italy and did not speak any English. My fellow classmates gave him a quick hello and went back to playing with their toys. But I could see he seemed uncertain, despite his eyes being bright with excitement and interest. Even though we did not speak the same language, I could feel that this boy was far from what was familiar to him and would benefit from someone showing him all the great things around us. I felt a responsibility to help out and share with him all the things I knew and loved about our preschool classroom. That year, we became good friends, and he even attended my fifth birthday party, gifting me a kite. He came alive that year, thrived in our school, and I felt so gratified to think that maybe in some small way, I helped.

Fast forward to my teen years – I was pondering over what to do for my Girl Scouts Gold Award. The memory of the boy from Italy returned to my thoughts. It soon hit me that I have always felt connected to teach and help others. I realized I could implement this through my love for tennis. Tennis, like so many sports, is healthy, social and mentally invigorating. For many students with constrained financing, the sport can be a great way to widen one’s college opportunities and choices. I realized what I needed to do. My project would be to help girls and boys from a town that does not have a tennis program learn to love and appreciate all the sport has to offer in both the present and the future.

After lots of brainstorming, canvassing for equipment, donations from various local clubs and reaching out to current and previous varsity teammates, coaches and friends, I was able to gather a team that was willing and excited to help me along this journey. I then reached out to the Boys and Girls Club of Asbury Park. The great people there helped engage me in a program where I would work with the staff and teach tennis lessons to 40 girls and 40 boys during their summer camp. I hoped that my true love for the sport would inspire these children to open their minds to the countless possibilities the sport may offer. Many people feel tennis is restricted to the more affluent communities due to court locations, access to private courts, professional coaching and expensive equipment. But the game itself is simply players with rackets, balls and a court. By teaching these children, I wanted to show that tennis is a sport accessible to everyone with courts available for free sign-ups in lots of local towns. 

As I taught, I developed a relationship with these eager children. We discussed the empowering story of Serena and Venus Williams along with countless other tennis greats who started from modest backgrounds. One inquisitive girl asked me if I was one of the sisters. Laughing at the thought of me playing a match against either one of these unstoppable women, I whispered to her that I was not, but that she could be every bit as good as them with similar hard work and determination. She lit up with enthusiasm at someone believing in her potential. I told her I’d be honored to cheer her on in any tournament she attends in the future and that I knew she has potential for greatness. 

Through these sessions, the children not only learned how to play the sport, but also discovered the benefits tennis offers for lifelong health, strong social connections and how they can use tennis to shape their future in a way they may not have previously imagined possible. An aspirational goal was to inspire children to love the game enough to share it with family members and friends in their community.

At times, it can seem like there is a lot of polarization in society. However, it is so fulfilling when people find common ground. While we are learning and enjoying the sport together, we can make lifelong friendships wherever we go, all while enhancing our physical and mental capacities.  

As I received priceless hugs from the boys and girls, I looked back on the warm smile I gave to the boy from Italy in preschool, reminding me how far a helping hand can go.

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