When we saw the December 3 headline "The Pandemic is hitting military families in multiple ways," we saw a charity program mentioned we hadn't written about in the past. It is well known, of course, that Thanks USA has a very successful history with the USPTA and with the PPR, but we wanted to find out more to get to know this organization.
We were able to interview Jean Pletchette, Director of Sports Initiatives for THANKS USA. And we made the effort to check out the organization on Charity Navigator. Not very surprising, the rating was quite good, and we applauded the fact that only 8.6% of grants and donations were spent on Administration Expenses. (see report here)
Fueling the passion for sports and education with the mission of supporting military families.
Talking with Jean Pletchette
Director of Sports Initiatives
Thanks USA MISSION
Providing need-based college, technical and vocational school scholarships and pathways to employment for children
and spouses of our troops.
Jean Pletchette provided some additional information that is helping us to understand the connection Thanks USA has with the sport of tennis.
Since 2012, as part of Tennis Thanks the Troops, the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and ThanksUSA have teamed up to encourage tennis professionals and enthusiasts nationwide to raise funds to support ThanksUSA's mission of providing need-based scholarships and pathways to meaningful employment for children and spouses of our troops.
Since 2019, the Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR) has partnered with ThanksUSA to promote our Play It Forward campaign. The goal of the partnership is to increase awareness and funds raised for the ThanksUSA scholarship program, ultimately increasing the number of military families impacted nationwide.
In 2020, our partnership with the United States Tennis Association (USTA), evolved to share ThanksUSA’s Tennis Corps model to tennis providers across the country. The purpose of the partnership program is to provide the opportunity for disabled veterans and service members to achieve therapeutic benefits and improve their overall health and well-being through adaptive tennis participation. View Tennis Corps video on Tennis Channel feature: TennisExtra: https://youtu.be/eFUT3ptMhNA
Frances Tiafoe playing with disabled Veteran at Tennis Corps program
TCB: Hi Jean, where are you originally from, and did you grow up with sports?
JP: As an Iowa native growing up in a large family, my love of sports was sparked by daily ball games on the farm with siblings. Unfortunately, my organized sports opportunities were limited. While pursuing a career in Health & Physical Education, I thrived during my competitive sports career at a small college. My dream came true competing in three intercollegiate sports at Mount Marty College, Yankton, SD. I have enjoyed sports and fitness my entire life and share that passion with my husband, a longtime Parks and Recreation Director. We have passed that energy to our daughters and continue to enjoy an active lifestyle with our children and grandchildren.
TCB: After 25 years as a teacher, you began working for ThanksUSA. What attracted you to this organization?
JP: Following a rewarding career as a Health & Physical Educator, the opportunity with ThanksUSA seemed like a perfect fit. My role as Director of Sports Initiatives fuels my passion for sports and education with the mission of supporting military families. ThanksUSA scholarships ease the financial burden on these families who already sacrifice so much. On a personal level, several nephews and currently my son-in-law and their families have illuminated the commitment and sacrifice of military families on a daily basis. Since joining the ThanksUSA staff, I have become keenly aware how support from ThanksUSA provides life-changing opportunities to families of our troops – who often rely on one source of income and show higher rates of difficulty making ends meet.
TCB: What does your position ‘Director of Sports Initiatives’ entail?
JP: My responsibilities include working with our sports partners to support the mission of ThanksUSA. I have been blessed to meet so many wonderful sports professionals through my position with ThanksUSA. Through our collaboration with the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and the Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR), I have worked directly with tennis and sports professionals in leadership roles to help share our message with their membership. Collaboration efforts with the USPTA and PPR continue to engage sports enthusiasts and venues through fundraising events to support ThanksUSA military family scholarships.
Additional responsibilities include overseeing the ThanksUSA Tennis Corps program by providing tennis opportunities for Veterans in the Washington DC region, in addition to teaming up with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to share ThanksUSA’s Tennis Corps model to tennis providers across the country.
TCB: Do you like working for ThanksUSA? What are the moments in the last 6-7 years you are most proud of?
JP: I am honored to be part of the ThanksUSA family and proud to support our nation’s military families through the gift of education. ThanksUSA awards nearly $1 million in scholarships each year to help military spouses and children to attain their academic goals.
Some of my proudest moments include:
Developing professional and personal friendships with sports professionals across the country.
Attending ThanksUSA fundraising events put on by passionate and committed sports professionals.
Opportunities provided at division and national conventions to acknowledge donations from our partnering organizations.
ThanksUSA being invited to participate in Military Appreciation Day ceremonies, specifically at Citi Open and US Open!
Attending our annual ThanksUSA Gala to witness first hand the power of ThanksUSA to transform lives, and meeting ThanksUSA Scholarship recipients who are grateful for the impact realized by the generosity of others.
Jean accepting USPTA Foundation donation from USPTA Leadership at USPTA World Conference
TCB: What are the biggest challenges for you?
JP: There are lots of good causes and I have found that many clubs support their favorite charity on an annual basis. It’s a challenge to compete with some of the more familiar non-profit fundraisers.
TCB: When was the ThanksUSA Tennis Corps formed, and how did this come about?
JP: ThanksUSA Tennis Corps (TennisCorps.org) was founded in 2018 in partnership with the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) in College Park, MD. This weekly clinic brings together Veterans and the JTCC’s elite student-athletes to play with and learn from each other. This intergenerational partnership provides a unique opportunity for Veterans to learn the sport of tennis in a safe and controlled environment and allows the two unlikely groups to build friendships, share experiences, and overcome barriers.
Annual Tennis Thanks the Troops fundraiser at
Westwood Country Club, Vienna, VA
Through Tennis Corps, Veterans and youth tennis players are trailblazing a new path of physical and mental rehabilitation. And tennis is better because of it.
Tennis Corps provides Veterans with opportunities for health and healing. The specialized rehabilitation program optimizes Veterans’ independence, well-being, and quality of life. The Veterans currently involved in the program are all smiles when coming out every week to play and connect. Combined with the youth mentoring component, you won’t find a tennis experience like this anywhere else.
ThanksUSA National Spokesperson Frances Tiafoe was recently honored as the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award. Tiafoe promotes ThanksUSA’s mission and is the face of our Tennis Corps program.
“Working with the Veterans is great,” Tiafoe shared. “They know what it means to sacrifice and work hard, and that’s what it takes to be a champion.” Tiafoe makes time for the Veterans and junior players of Tennis Corps. He spends time while at JTCC training sessions on the court volleying, rallying and sharing a good laugh with the Vets.
Tennis Corps participants featured on center court at the 2019 Citi Open in Washington, DC
TCB: How did the relationship with the USPTA get started?
JP: ThanksUSA’s Chairman Bob Okun is an avid sportsman, so our outreach to tennis, golf, and pickleball was a perfect fit for success. The USPTA has supported our efforts since 2012. I work through the USPTA Division leadership and Ambassadors to help get the word out to their members. I have had the pleasure of getting to know many of them personally and that is my favorite part of my position.
TCB: How has COVID-19 influenced your activities in 2020?
JP: Like other organizations, ThanksUSA has experienced the trickle-down effect of the pandemic’s hit on our economy. Restrictions on the sporting world have limited the number of fundraising events to support our efforts in 2020. I am confident that we will rebound, as the need of military families is greater than ever.
COVID has exposed the fragile nature of military families who already faced high spouse unemployment rates prior to the pandemic.
TCB: If money were no object, what would you do with ThanksUSA Tennis Corps next year?
JP: We are currently benefitting from a VA Adaptive Sports Grant for Disabled Veterans and Disabled Members of the Armed Forces. This additional funding is allowing us to continue our original Tennis Corps weekly clinic at JTCC, in addition to supporting our Tennis Corps expansion efforts with the USTA. Our goal for this year is to expand Tennis Corps to six new sites across the United States.
Our goal is to attract a private or corporate sponsor to support a national program instilling values in junior tennis players by connecting them with Veterans who’ve made sacrifices for our country. The informal mentoring relationships are transforming the lives of everyone involved.
TCB: Do you have a message for our readers? What would you like them to do?
JP: Please honor and thank our military families and consider support through ThanksUSA (ThanksUSA.org), one of the only needs-based scholarship programs for both military spouses and child dependents. We understand that the greatest way to “thank” our troops is to care for their families, and we show that appreciation through education.
Since 2006, we have awarded nearly $16 million in scholarships, with recipients from each of the 50 states and DC and representing all military branches.
ThanksUSA is currently seeking partnerships within the tennis industry to join us in sharing our inspirational Tennis Corps program. If you’re interested in learning more about Tennis Corps or planning a fundraising event, please contact Jean Pletchette at Jean@ThanksUSA.org.
TCB: Thank you, Jean.
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