By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Andrew Greene's broad smile appeared to be the only thing whiter than his tennis outfit as his invited guests and volunteers arrived in their Grand Slam best for "Wimbledon on the Water" at the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club in New York City.
In a sense, it was a brave front as Vice President of Development of Housing Works, the advocacy organization hosting the event, Greene was equally nervous about two things: Getting the word out about underprivileged people living with HIV/AIDS, and getting his first serve in.
"I call myself 'Sir Choke-a-lot,'" said Greene with another grin. "I really don't know how to get over tanking it out there on the court. I need a sports psychologist, or better yet, a psychiatrist!"
Players hopped from court to court in what was a series of lightning rounds, taking to the green Hard-Tru surface for a mixed doubles round-robin tournament. Awards were handed out to the championship and runner-up teams, as well as tongue-in-cheek superlative trophies for honors such as "Best Interpretation of a Wimbledon Champion" and the "Monica Seles Award for Loudest Player Present."
Greene would whiff on a few backhands but connected strong with over 100 attendees who showed up to support the Housing Works cause, many of whom also attended the inaugural Wimbledon-themed event last June and were back for more festive fun. Appearances were in line with what one would expect to find at the All England Club, as most everyone donned white outfits, sipped some champagne and indulged in a strawberries with homemade whipped cream.
For a night, it was a high-class celebration for working-class activists, envoys to the local, state and even federal government providing a voice for New York City HIV/AIDS patients who are homeless or with negligible income. All were invited to participate in the raffling of donated items, including tickets to the 2011 US Open.
"Poor people living with AIDS in the city is a growing problem that people fail to realize," said Greene. "The biggest challenge for Housing Works is to service as many people as necessary and trying to deliver and fund what this growing population should have - housing, health care, job placement, and drug treatment as prime examples - becomes more difficult as both the population and living costs increase."
"We receive thousands of unique cases each year and there are so many more still unaccounted for, entire families struggling mightily for basic needs," he added.
In the past year, the community-based organization of donors and volunteers raised nearly $100,000 of which $12,000 came from the first "Wimbledon" event to combat poverty and HIV/AIDS. Aside from volunteer-driven special events such as "Wimbledon on the Water," Housing Works relies on the year-round contributions of donors to run their various shops, cafes, thrift stores and offices.
"We've all looked forward to being back after the great time we had last year," said Greene. "Successful nights such as this aren't possible without the voluntary leadership of our team. Without people like Nick McCarvel and Korey Provencher, just to name a few on our side, I can't imagine this event having nearly the impact it did either last year or this year. Also, we owe a lot to Tim Nolan of A&E Networks for his sponsorship, time and effort to help in any way possible."
Troy Venechanos, who attended at the urging of a friend, was one of the many who were blasting forehands and cheering on partners and opponents alike when on the sidelines. An active player since high school and huge tennis fan, Venechanos was delighted that he could enjoy the game in a less-than-austere environment.
"The people here tonight all seem wonderful, really cool. It is just the right mix of competitiveness and still not taking it too seriously, realizing were all here for a cause," said Venechanos. "It looks nothing like London, but its been easy to get into the spirit of things."
Housing Works is a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS whose mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses to sustain these efforts.