Access Youth Academy, a San Diego programme that aims to transform the lives of underserved youth through academic enrichment, health and wellness, social responsibility and leadership through squash, has opened a brand new facility to better serve the local community.
The three-step programme provides 1.5 hours of individual after-school tuition and 1.5 hours of squash every day to students in grades 7-12. It then continues to support them throughout and after university.
Since the programme was founded in 2006, Access youths have achieved a 100 percent high school graduation rate, a 100 percent college acceptance rate, and secured $8.6M USD in scholarship awards.
Now, with the new community centre, the programme’s reach has been greatly expanded.
Access staff predict that the new community centre, which was constructed with the help of a $5.5M grant from the City of San Diego, will allow the programme to reach hundreds, if not thousands, more at-risk youths, serve more first-generation college students, and provide community classrooms to be used for the provision of educational, workforce preparedness, and informational services for southeast San Diego adults and transition-age youth.
At the opening, Access Youth Academy director Renato Paiva said: “It doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short, big or small. It’s all about what’s in the mind. We love to go to college and win at squash as well.” He added: “I think it is [a golden ticket]. It’s going to become more popular as we get bigger.”
The centre blends sports, academics, and business activities. The northern wing contains squash and changing facilities, while the southern hosts classrooms, a computer lab, gallery, and college prep room.
Speaking about the impact the programme has had on her life, Djulia Sekariyongo Koita, who joined Access from foster care after moving to the US from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said: “[Before Access]I’d never heard of squash and didn’t know what it was. Squash is where I learnt to win, learnt to lose. Learnt to be a friend and a sibling. Be a human! It gave me a permanent home and what I wanted the most, a permanent family.”
Since joining Access, Sekariyongo Koita has gone on to graduate high school and is now captain of the squash team at the University of California, Berkeley, where she studies social welfare.
She added: “I’ll carry Access with me everywhere. My voice comes from the confidence it gave me. I’m a fighter because of squash. Your character is built on the court, so whatever I’ve learnt on the court has been what I’ve been able to use to help me survive my college life. For sure, squash is going to be a part of my future, there’s no other way.”