The next two weekends will be pretty good ones for Ned Eames.
First, the founder of Tenacity Inc. — a tennis and enrichment program for 6,500 youths in Boston and Worcester — will host 800-plus guests Saturday at the Westin Waterfront Hotel from 5:30-11 p.m. at the organization’s annual fund-raising gala. He hopes to raise $500,000.
The following Saturday, the former pro tennis player will be inducted into the New England Division of the US Tennis Association’s Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.
Saturday's gala at the Westin will have a "magic" theme -- focusing on the "magic" of extended learning time -- and school reform in Boston, Eames said during a wide-ranging interview at Tenacity’s Allston offices Tuesday morning.
“Those partnerships bring increased academic help and also enrichment, which is key because kids can’t be in classrooms all day," Eames said. "They need to have fun running around recreating, experiencing the arts and so forth.”
Latin Academy tennis coach and founding Tenacity program director Andy Crane will receive the Founders Award at the gala.
“The evening will culminate with Andy on stage receiving this award,” Eames said. “There is also an incredibly moving video on Andy over the years that includes a lot of the staff and kids that he worked with. We’ll probably have 35 student alumni of Tenacity he mentored come up on stage with him.”
The gala will also honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and celebrate Tenacity’s first year of raising money through 15 Boston Marathon runners, all of whom were unharmed during the attacks.
Eames said Tenacity had about 230 staff members and 20 students along the course on Marathon Monday who also were uninjured.
“I was supposed to be at finish line but I couldn’t go,” Eames said. “My wife took my place and was literally on the bleachers across the street from the incident. She was OK but it was a very emotionally difficult time in terms of the injuries to others.
"I think we have a very profound and appropriate video and live on stage will acknowledge what our city went through this past year with the Marathon.”
Starting up in the summer of 1999, Tenacity worked with 1,100 kids in its tennis and reading enrichment program. The program now serves 5,000 kids each summer in Boston and Worcester.
During the school year, Tenacity serves 1,000 in partnership with Boston Public Schools and is on the cusp of growing to 2,000 students.
Eames, who received the Tennis Hall of Fame 2012 Samuel Hardy and Tennis Educational Merit Award in March, said being named to the New England Hall is meaningful because he can relate to the students his organization services.
Eames spent the first 14 years of his life at the leafy Newbury prep school now called Governor’s Academy, where his father was a teacher. But his father uprooted the family to become a community organizer in Worcester.
Eames lived in the rough-and-tumble Plumley Village housing projects and took a bus to play tennis at the Westboro Tennis and Swim Club before his family moved to a street near the clay courts at the Worcester Tennis Club.
“The tennis community in Worcester really pulled me in and made me a part of it, and tennis really became the activity that pulled me through my teen years, which in my case were challenging and not a smooth run,” he said.
“This was just a completely new world for me and it was a world that was very attractive to me and one that I threw myself into. And then it went on to play a very big role in my life through high school and college and then afterwards.
“So now, at the age of 53, to have an opportunity to be recognized in this way -- and especially because I’m being recognized for service work with kids, kids like I was in Worcester living in Plumley Village -- is very meaningful to me.”
Eames played in the state finals for Doherty High before captaining the San Diego State team. He also spent a few years on the pro satellite tour. He joked that he’s a little disappointed not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player.
"I had hoped I’d be inducted as a player, and I was a pretty good player," he said, "but in the end, I’m even happier that it’s for this reason.”
Click here to purchase tickets to Saturday's Tenacity gala at the Westin Waterfront Hotel.
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