Xander’s Award Winning Essay and Trip to NYC!

We are thrilled to share that one of our 7th grade students, Xander Freeman, has won the 21st Annual NJTL Essay Contest in the Boys’ 12 and Under category. Xander’s was one of only ten essays selected out of over 2,600 entries. Xander's Winning Essay (5)This year the USTA Foundation asked students participating in National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapters to answer this prompt: “This year marks the 50th anniversary of NJTL. What specific impact do you hope your chapter can make in your community today that you would want remembered 50 years from now?” Xander rose to the challenge and wrote an incredible essay highlighting the impact the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation (MWYF) has had on the Jacksonville community and what he hopes for the future of the organization and the community.Xander's Winning Essay (6)To celebrate his accomplishments, Xander was sent on a trip to New York City from August 22nd to the 25th. He was able to explore the city, see “The Lion King” on Broadway, visit 30 Rockefeller Center’s “Top of the Rock”, and have other exciting experiences throughout his visit.Xander's Winning Essay (7)The USTA Foundation hosted him as a VIP in the President’s Box at the 2019 Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day celebration to kick off the US Open. He also received an honorary plaque at an awards luncheon attended by former New York City mayor the Honorable David N. Dinkins and USTA Foundation Past President Pam Shriver.

MWYF is appreciative of the USTA Foundation for giving students the opportunity to showcase their talents and inspiring them to be a part of making a difference in their communities. Join us in celebrating Xander for his wonderful representation of MWYF, advocacy for his community, and talent as a writer. You can read Xander’s award winning essay in its entirety below. Congratulations, Xander!

The impact that I hope to see my NJTL, the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation, make is that they can get all of the youth off the streets and have a safe educational environment to come to after school. MWYF can help Jacksonville’s crime go down in the neighborhood that it is located. The more youth that go to the programs, the more that we can keep them from killing people, using or selling drugs and joining gangs. The most specific thing I want MWYF to be remembered for is the way they helped youth of all races get off the streets of Jacksonville.

MWYF can continue to help youth develop positive mindsets that we are winners at the end of the day no matter what. The staff love us so much that we consider each other family. They provide us with life skills classes we can use to overcome the hardships in life, help us with our homework and other educational activities that youth will need 50 years from now. The MWYF staff would also need caring and loving adults as we do now – they all help us get to where we are at now. If you are feeling troubled and you do not know any trusted adult, staff at MWYF will talk to you. Youth will need that long into the future.

I also want MWYF to be remembered for exposing youth to the sport of tennis, which is rare in our community except for youth that attend the program.

So fifty years from now, the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation would be remembered as being an all-around good place to go to feel loved and safe from crime. We always stress that we are family and you are loved for who you are no matter what.

by Xander Freeman


Volunteer Appreciation Week

MWYF aims to provide each student with the individual support they need to succeed, both inside and outside the classroom. Reaching that goal would not be possible without the help of countless volunteers that dedicate their time to making a direct impact in our students’ lives. Below are just some of the ways volunteers give back.



Becoming a mentor to one of our students is one of the most direct ways volunteers can make an impact in the life of a student. This school year, over 40 mentors have met with our students once a week to help them with homework, provide them with a positive role model, and give them the extra support they need, whether personal or academic. Thank you, mentors, for being a positive force in our students’ lives!

Fun Friday

Stopping by our center, even just for an afternoon, always brightens our students’ day! Two-hundred and six volunteers have participated in Fun Friday with our students this school year playing kickball,  making arts & crafts, and reading books in book club. Our students work hard on their schoolwork all week, so every Friday it’s important that they have an opportunity to have some fun! Thank you to our Fun Friday volunteers for helping us give our students a fun end to the week.


Every year, we enter the holiday season with the goal of making sure students can enjoy the holidays no matter their economic circumstances.Volunteers make that goal a reality. This past Thanksgiving, volunteers packaged and delivered meals to 110 of our students’ families! Our Holiday Angels went above and beyond last Christmas, providing more than 1,000 presents to 250+ of our students and their siblings.

Career Day

At MWYF’s semi-annual career days, local professionals volunteer to spend an afternoon telling our students about how they got to where they are. At our Spring Career Day, 21 people from 17 companies helped our students learn more about potential educational and career paths. Thank you to everyone who has participated in a career day for showing our students the different possibilities open to hem if they continue to work hard!

Exotic Robotics Club: Team Ends First Year with Two Awards!

Renaissance Jax Inc. First LEGO League Regional Championship

Every school year, our middle school students choose a club to join for the year with options that range from Cooking Club to Basketball Club. Thanks to our partnership with Communities in Schools, the DuBow Family Foundation, and Shiva Robotics, this year our students had the opportunity to join Robotics Club.

When MWYF’s middle school students were choosing a recreational or educational club to join for the 2018-2019 school year, there was one new option- Robotics! Robotics teaches students about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) through various hands-on activities such as building robots and learning how to control them through coding.  The robotics club eventually formed into a tight knit group of several students; Amaya, Christian, Kendall, Tatiayana, Thylur, Tywan, and Valor -with staff member Ms. Emily as their coach.

The Robotics Club (who named themselves ‘Exotic Robotics’) originally met twice a week but began practicing up to four times a week as they prepared for their first ever tournament. Team members had extra motivation to finish school work on time and ace tests and quizzes, since maintaining good academics is required to participate in the club.  Stanton High School student coach Vireli also joined the team, bringing several years of hands-on experience to help our rookie team learn the ropes.

We asked some of our Exotic Robotics team members what their favorite part of Robotics Club is:

Tywan (2)





Coach Emily

The months spent practicing finally paid off when Exotic Robotics attended the FIRST LEGO League’s qualifying tournament. Spending all day together at the tournament, along with hours of practicing made the team even stronger. Out of the twelve teams competing, Exotic Robotics won the Champion’s Trophy and was one of the three teams chosen to move on to regionals!

With their first trophy in hand, Exotic Robotics had even more motivation to continue their hard work as they headed toward the Renaissance Jax FIRST LEGO League Regional Championship. Despite all of their hard work and dedication, our students did not advance to the next round, but they didn’t leave regionals empty handed! Out of the fifty teams that participated, Exotic Robotics won the Judge’s Award after making a connection with judges. Although they didn’t make it to the next level of the competition, our students kept a positive attitude and are focused on building a legacy for future students to build. Many of the students plan to become robotics coaches themselves when they enter high school. We are so proud of Exotic Robotics, both students and coaches, and can’t wait to see what they accomplish next year!

We Asked Our Students: “What Have You Learned from MWYF?”

MWYF’s programs are always growing and expanding to provide our students a broad base of support. One of the most valuable components of our program is life skills classes. These classes provide students with instruction on how to manage money, apply to college and for scholarships, anger management, and other real world skills. MWYF’s life skills classes help us guide our students through adolescence into adulthood. As we look to the future, which includes building the new Teen Center — we asked students to reflect on what MWYF has taught them so far.

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“TnT has taught me that there are hardships in life that you need to accept because it will get better. This is important to me because it tells me that there are some things in life that I may find unfair and disagree with, but I shouldn’t lose hope. It helps me as a student because I may not be happy or agree with something in school, but I can handle things in a positive way.”

Lashanta H. (1)

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far through MWYF, it’s that failure is ok. Failure is hard to avoid, but it’s evidence that you tried. MWYF has showed me this on so many occasions. Failure has helped me through tennis because when I was matched with a higher rated competitor, I didn’t just lose, but I learned a lesson—whether it was how to better my shots or how to avoid making the same mistakes.”


“One lesson I have learned from MWYF is life skills. Life skills classes have helped me a lot by teaching me skills that will take me through school, college, work, and the real world. Some of the things I’ve learned are why you shouldn’t use drugs, how to make a career plan, and how to resist conflict and stay out of trouble. The research papers we’ve written and activities I participated in helped me realize that I want to become an OBGYN.”

Jaakari (1)

“Attending MWYF has impacted me greatly. It helped me manage my attitude while giving me relief from school, and without it me and my peers may have chosen a different path. As a young man with anger problems, MWYF provided me with a support system and taught me how to control my attitude and effectively communicate with others. I hope by continuing to come to MWYF I can get rid of my attitude and anger issues for good.”

Amiya (1)

“I have been attending MWYF for 12 years now and I have learned many things throughout those years. The lesson that will stick with me forever is that having a negative attitude in any situation will cause me to lose a lot. I learned this during my first tennis matches because whenever I would lose a match I would be furious towards my opponent. As I got older, I realized I was only making myself look bad and worsening my circumstances. This instruction from MWYF showed me that, as a student, having a positive attitude can make the difference between having an amazing life and a nonsense one.”

You can help us impact more students’ lives by donating to our Teen Center!

Neriah: Youngest Student Athlete of the Year in Program History!

When Neriah Owens won the George M. Soper Student Athlete of the Year Award this year she became the youngest student in our program to ever do so. Read her story below about how she prepared to give a speech in front of 400 people and what this award means to her!

Neriah Crowd

I was speechless and really surprised when I first got this award, but I was also proud.  I didn’t think it was real because I was in the 5th grade not the older grades like all the previous winners.  After that day, people started thinking highly of me and I was a little overwhelmed.  It finally became real when I was called up to the front office to put my name plaque up on the board where all the other former student athlete’s names are.  Shortly after that, it was time to start working on my speech (a lot of people kept asking me about it) for the gala.  When doing my speech, I got help from others and I am grateful for all that help and support.  I even asked the former student athletes questions to help ease my nerves. Every day leading up to the gala I had to say my speech out loud to people to practice.

On the day of the gala, I was quite nervous and a little stressed.  I was really confused what to do and where to go.  Sadly, when I had to go up and talk I had to stop eating my food so I never finished eating.  As I was waiting to do my speech I was so scared, my knees were shaking a little, but once I started talking I felt a lot more calm.  Then, I was done and I got a huge standing ovation and I felt so proud.  After, we played a short little game where I helped on stage.  I was so tired at the end but I had an amazing night.

Neriah Speech

Being Student Athlete of the Year has filled me with a lot of determination.  From the start, I felt as if I had a great amount of responsibility held over my head, but I was fine with it because I knew that’s what it takes to receive this award along with other scholarships.  To me, this scholarship is a great achievement.  Out of all other students, I proved myself to be good enough, even though no one as young as me has ever won before.  I want the next person that receives this scholarship to be able to learn and grown on the tennis court, in the classroom, and all around the world—no matter what gets in their way.

With my scholarship, I’d like to attend North Carolina State University and get my bachelor’s degree, although I am not sure what I want to study yet.  NC State is a great school that has multiple programs for me to get involved in and sports teams to cheer for.  It’s where my father went to school and I hope to make my parents proud!

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Sylver is “spear”ing success!

This past week, one of our seniors, Sylver, graduated from William M. Raines High School. She is now preparing to move to Tallahassee where she will be attending Florida State University on a full scholarship! We are so proud of all that she has accomplished while in our program and can’t wait to see what she will achieve in Tallahassee.

Read her story below about her experience as a full-time student while doing dual enrollment, playing tennis and maintaining a job.

While being a full-time student, playing tennis and maintaining a job may sound like a lot for an 18-year-old, it’s not. I have a lot of goals, dreams and aspirations that I would love to accomplish, conquer and obtain. The only way to satisfy my future needs are to work hard now so that I can live lavish later. This lifestyle comes easy to me because I keep God first and he strengthens me and reminds me to never give up and contribute 100% effort towards everything I put my mind to.

I found out that all of my hard work and dedication paid off on January 25, 2018 at 5:19 PM when I received my acceptance into Florida State University. FSU has been my dream school and being able to say that I am a Nole is a dream come true. We have several Noles in my family and it means everything and more for me to be able to join the club.

Without TnT, I would not have the preparation or the mindset I have now. Since 5th grade, TnT has instilled in me to never give up and keep school first. TnT provided me with opportunities and exposed me to things I wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else.

Great partners make a greater impact!

The MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation partners with Take Stock in Children in providing our students with a 2-year community college scholarship & a mentor to encourage students in goal setting & college preparation.

Judy & Tequilla have been meeting almost every week for the last 3 years. Judy was introduced to MWYF prior to her involvement with TSIC. She joined our board and found out about the opportunity Tequilla had through Take Stock, so signed up to be her mentor!

We asked Judy what her favorite part about mentoring is and this is what she said:

“I look forward to seeing Tequilla each week, and hearing about all the details of her life. We talk about her progress in school, of course, and address how to tackle any problems she is having. But what I enjoy most is listening to her thoughts about her life – what interests her, what she’s passionate about, what path she’d like to take in life.”

Many of the staff at MWYF are mentors for Take Stock, meeting with mentees a few times a month, to talk about college preparedness & life.

Tequilla, now in 10th grade,  said that when she and Judy first started meeting, she just wanted to know how she was going to help keep her on track. Now, she is so thankful for the relationship they have. She says “My favorite part of meeting with Mrs. Judy is our relationship. She likes to talk about doing things outside of TnT with me, and she treats me kind of like a child of hers.”

We love that the mentor/mentee relationships fostered through the Take Stock program become ones that last. “While most adults begin mentoring to make a difference in the life young person, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has wondered if the benefit to me is even greater. I look forward to seeing Tequilla each week, celebrating her triumphs and sharing her challenges. I have a bond with her that I hope will last a lifetime. said Mrs. Judy.

We’re thankful for great partners that believe in our students and their potential. If you’d like to sign up for the Take Stock in Children mentoring program, click this link: http://takestockjax.org/mentoring/


Bernard: College Bound!


Bernard is a senior at Robert E. Lee High School. We are very proud of him & all he’s accomplished throughout his educational career. Read his story below:

“Coming to the program has helped me because It has made me realize how much of an asset college is. This program has put in my head at an early age that college is possible. TnT set a trail for me on how to be successful and that all I had to do was apply myself.

For college, I’m undecided on where I want to go. However, I do know that I want to major in Physical Therapy. Having already completed an internship with Brooks Rehabilitation, I realized that I am sure about this major. While in school I also plan to play collegiate basketball.

The activities I am currently involved in are yearbook staff, basketball, tennis, & 5,000 Role Models. 5,000 Role Models helped me to go to Washington, DC. In Washington I was 1 of 14 other people chosen out of the whole COUNTRY. This was a round table for us to talk about youth and police relations. It was a really great and unforgettable experience.

What I am most excited about for college is getting my degree and getting to know myself better as a young adult!”

-Bernard T.

Mentoring at MaliVai – Nick & Troy

Troy and Nick

The mentoring program at MaliVai Washington provides so many opportunities for our students to  gain insight & knowledge about life experiences from their mentor while building positive relationships. This program gives our students the opportunity to receive one-on-one homework assistance and to have someone dedicated to helping them succeed as an individual.

We take time in matching each mentee with their mentor & we are continually encouraged when we hear of stories about positive life change happening in our students and volunteers!

Below is Nick & Troy’s story about their experience through the mentor program. We hope you are as inspired & encouraged as we were after hearing their story:

(These direct quotes have been taken from a recent essay Troy wrote about his greatest role model and an interview with his mentor, Nick)

“Mr. Nick is my mentor. He has been my mentor for three years. He is where I want to be when I grow up.” – Troy (6th grade)

Nick Smith, a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy was matched with one of our students, Troy, through our mentoring program when Troy was in the 4th grade. Three years later, Nick and Troy (now in 6th grade) still meet at the center for about an hour to talk about homework, work, school and life.

“My mentor serves in the Navy and I want to serve in the military. Sometimes when I see him in his uniform I imagine myself dressed the same way he is.” – Troy (6th grade)

Often times, Nick comes to the center after work, still dressed in his uniform. Obvious questions arose about what he does and what his work entails. The discipline, dedication, & commitment taught in the Navy are lessons easily transferable to the importance of having those qualities when it comes to school work. The relationship built between them has become one that inspires Troy on the journey towards his future!

“Recently, Troy has begun considering a future in the U.S. Navy. The possibility that I might walk with him on a journey to serve his country is, without question, my favorite part about mentoring.” – Nick Smith

At the center everyone knows when they see Nick, he’s here to hang with Troy!

“Most of my day is spent being called Lieutenant Smith or Nick. At MWYF I am ‘Troy’s mentor’ and I couldn’t be more happy about it.” -Nick Smith

The commitment Nick has to Troy has trickled outside of the center and has led to building a relationship with Troy’s family! We love how their relationship has developed over the last few years  and hope it continues to grow as Troy moves on to the 7th grade and beyond. We’re thankful for all that Nick has done & continues to do in developing such strong commitment to Troy’s success. We’re also excited to watch Troy learn, grow, and become all he was meant to be!

“I thank him everyday. I thank him for going out of his way to be the best mentor anyone can have!” -Troy (6th grade)

Nick & Troy

Arthur Ashe National Contest Winner & Winning Essay

CONGRATS to rising 7th grader Alfredo who was one of only 10 contest winners in the USTA Foundation’s NJTL National Arthur Ashe Essay and Photo Contest! Alfredo’s essay about his local NJTL hero won him a trip for two New York City and the 2015 Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day presented by Hess on August 29th. Great job, Alfredo! For all interested in reading his essay, check it out here!  News4Jax also covered this great achievement. Check out their full story here.

AlfredoArthur Ashe Kids Day 2015