October 9, 2013

Tennis Charity Started by PDS’s Devulapalli Making Global Impact Through Labor of Love

sports6When Neeraj Devulapalli started doing volunteer work five years ago for the National Junior Tennis and Learning of Trenton (NJTLT), his focus was local.

“I liked the experience and what I started to realize is that the kids at NJTLT only played once a week when they were there,” said Devulapalli, a senior at the Princeton Day School and a boys’ tennis star for the Panthers.

“They had no opportunity to carry it on outside of that, like they can with a sport like basketball. They have the tennis courts at Cadwalader Park but they didn’t have the equipment. They couldn’t just go across the street and get a tennis racket. I wanted to make tennis more accessible. I wanted it to be a more common sport in the area.”

As a result, Devulapalli started gathering tennis equipment for the Trenton youths, putting out collection boxes at the Garden State Tennis Academy in Edison where he trains.

But as Devulapalli got involved in that effort, he realized that the needs stretched far wider than the Trenton area.

“I did a lot of research online and found others doing the same thing,” said Devulapalli.

“I didn’t want to send the equipment to one place,
I wanted to make it a broader, more global thing.”

As a result, he created “Game Set Health!,” a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting and donating used tennis rackets, balls, and equipment across the globe to those in need.

To date, Game Set Health has donated over 1,000 tennis balls, 150 rackets, and other equipment such as shoes, clothes, and strings to New York, Florida, Kenya, India, and Canada in addition to New Jersey.

“The first shipment went to New York, Florida, Canada, and Kenya,” said Devulapalli. “It was 40 balls, 40 rackets, other equipment.”

In order to make that donation, Devulapalli had to navigate through logistical and financial issues.

“I went to UPS in North Brunswick and the first shipment was going to cost $2,000 if they shipped it,” recalled Devulapalli.

“They agreed to pack it for free and then I took it USPS in Kendall Park and we sent it at the less expensive USPS rate. It is a drill now.”

Getting the 501(c)(3) charter status for his organization was another challenge for Devulapalli.

“In the summer after my freshman year, the organization was formally started,” said Devulapalli.

“The 501(c)(3) process takes a while. There is a lot of paper work and it is hard for an underage person to get it started. I needed five adults over 21 who weren’t family to support me.”

Devulapalli has found support for his efforts across the world. “We have formed a network of tennis charities,” said Devulapalli, whose group is global partners with the Victoria Tennis Academy in Kisumu City, Kenya.

“We will have 4-way Skype conference with one guy in Italy and another in Atlanta to talk about ways to increase shipments and figure out more organizations to get involved.”

The recipients of the equipment have shown their gratitude in a number of ways.

“The most prevalent follow-ups are in the form of pictures,” said Devulapalli. “The guy from Kenya is really good about that. The kids are really underprivileged there; they are not only getting rackets and balls, they are getting clothing. I have pictures of kids wearing the clothing to school. The places in Florida and Toronto send me letters; the kids thank you so much.”

Devulapalli is thankful for the equipment donors who have stepped up. “It is a really good feeling, it is great to see how willing people are to help,” said Devulapalli, noting that he has received equipment from as far away as Arkansas and Ohio. “I can see that people care so much.”

While Devulapalli is heading off to college next fall, he is more than willing to maintain the organization.

“I am 100 percent planning to keep this going when I am in college,” said Devulapalli, who is opening a website, gamesethealth.org, and hopes to organize a tennis/soccer tournament at PDS to raise money for the effort.

“My parents and family have really helped a lot. My mom knows the shipment drill. I am trying to recruit members by trying to get local involvement in schools.”

For Devulapalli, managing the organization has definitely been a labor of love.

“It is a year-round enterprise,” said Devulapalli. “I spend 15-20 hours in a tough week and 6-8 hours in other weeks. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to have a global impact. It is fulfilling; it is fun.”