Young Change Makers: Why and How Kyle Vukhac Is Helping To Change Our World

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You will have to make a lot of phone calls and send a lot of emails if you want people to respond — it can be discouraging at first but it’s important to keep at it.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Vukhac, founder of the non-profit

Kyle Vukhac was born and raised in New York and practically grew up with a tennis racquet in his hand. As a first-generation American, he often heard stories of the “American Dream” from his parents who arrived in the United States with nothing but the clothes on their back. In 2020, Kyle was inspired to start SecondServes after noticing the poor condition of many of the public tennis courts around New York City. What started as an initiative to refurbish worn courts around the city has turned into a passion project aimed at growing the game of tennis in communities it has historically struggled to break into. Kyle hopes to leave elitist tennis traditions in the past by showing people from all backgrounds that they are valued members of the tennis community.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in a family that has always emphasized graciousness and self-awareness. As Vietnam war refugees, my parents grew up with very little and they were conscious of teaching me about the advantages I have been afforded. I am very appreciative of all they have done for me and the perspective they have passed down to me. My parents, both being athletes, passed on their love of competition to me, and sports were a big part of my childhood. I tried many sports but tennis resonated with me the most. There was just something about the feel and sound of hitting a tennis ball just right that drew me to the sport. My nuclear family consists of my sister, our parents, and me. However, we have a large extended family all over the United States, and annual family gatherings in California are some of my favorite memories from my youth.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I really enjoyed the freedom I felt when reading Harry Potter — the notion that anything was possible with the help of magic really struck me. I’ve always had a profound fascination with fiction and fantasy, partially because of that notion. Plus, Harry’s own selflessness really resonated with me. The fact that he was such a natural-born talent in his world but chose to prioritize the protection and aid of others over himself was something I was really fascinated by. He was given natural talent and ability, but was very kind and used his skill to help and protect others.

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Tangible, pragmatic difference. Rather than making broad sweeps to identify an issue and spend hours and years ideating complex solutions, for me, it’s reaching the individual and working to better a community through more personal actions that have more immediate results. Doing what you can — making the most of the opportunities you have to help others…every little thing helps. That’s mainly why I started SecondServes by cleaning courts. The best way to have a direct impact is by doing it yourself.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Tennis is a sport that has a history of discrimination. All white clothing tennis clubs, expensive court costs, and equipment are all indicative of the barriers meant to prevent those of lower socioeconomic status from gaining access to, and enjoying, the sport. While big strides have been made in the direction of fixing this discrimination there is still a lot of work to do. I started SecondServes in order to help introduce a new audience to the game, all while working towards the larger goal of helping to break down the opportunity gap in the United States.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

When I was in middle school I used to live right next to John Jay Park. It was a nice park, and I found myself spending a lot of time playing tennis on the walls there. It was amazing to have such an accessible space to play, but I always preferred actual courts over the walls. I ended up meeting a kid my age on those courts. He was there every day after school and I could really tell that he loved tennis. At first, I thought that he just really enjoyed hitting on the wall and on his own, but soon I realized that he didn’t have the money or opportunity to play anywhere else. John Jay Park was his only option. I think that was the main eye-opening moment when I realized that I wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to play the game, had the ability to do so.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. We don’t always get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I started off a little slowly by cleaning tennis courts. I didn’t really know where and how I was going to expand. I soon realized that loads of people were willing to donate racquets and I began consolidating racquets into a corner in my room. When the corner started to overflow, rather than feel satisfied I realized how much of an impact I could have on the community if I continued my mission. From there I began learning to string racquets to fund the upkeep of racquets I had coming in. I created a collection system and soon racquets were coming in from across, and outside, of the country.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I started from the bottom up really. I knew I wanted to donate racquets but I also knew that court accessibility was also a big issue. I went out and started cleaning courts on my own and when people began to see online that I was doing the work myself it all came together. I was getting donations from people I would meet on the court, through the community, and the website. Then, from there it was all about managing the increasing supply.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I was fortunate enough to be connected to Ndamukong Suh, an All-American football player, and learned about how he grew up with a tennis court near his house. I decided to pitch him on a co-sponsored event to help underserved communities gain access to tennis in NYC. He agreed and now were in the midst of planning to provide a free clinic that offers experience, equipment, and knowledge of the game to young deserving players.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

I remember I was on my way to a tennis court I had found on the internet. I was in the Hamptons and there were usually public courts in the lower income areas that needed work. The court fit the same description that others usually did so when I got there I didn’t expect to show up to a pristine court. I remember standing there with a broom, leaf blower, and weed-whacker in hand, kind of stunned. I remember thinking that I may have overestimated the issue and I think it was around then when I pivoted to a focus more on racquets and restringing and gripping them.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My parents have been big cheerleaders throughout the whole process. I truly couldn’t do it without them. The sheer load of driving that they had to do to get me from court to court, donation collection from one place to another, would seem unreasonable to anyone else but my parents who stuck with me through it all. My parents, as Vietnam war refugees, came from nothing and understand the limitations that tennis has for those who are financially limited. My father especially so as he played college tennis and is a great player to this day. He is one of the reasons I feel so passionate about helping others have access to the game — it can truly change your life.

Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I specifically remember the time when someone had come up to me, right after I had finished cleaning a court to thank me. The gratification that I had gotten from that really pushed me to keep up the court cleaning.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Funding for the game in public schools and PE units;
  2. Create programs to recycle lightly used racquets (e.g. HM had 20 racquets sitting around in a close;
  3. NCAA Scholarships specifically for minorities in sports that are homogenous.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).

  1. You will have to make a lot of phone calls and send a lot of emails if you want people to respond — it can be discouraging at first but it’s important to keep at it;
  2. Having an online presence is important — it serves as a business card / proof of your work;
  3. You have to be willing to be your biggest advocate — there are lots of groups out there doing amazing work and it’s hard to get noticed if you aren’t hustling and pushing your mission;
  4. If there are skills that other people you admire have, work on them — having a growth mindset is really important if you want to grow alongside your organization;
  5. Don’t let yourself get bored — if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you should reevaluate and make changes to your organization that help you feel more fulfilled and energized.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

We are all in this together. You don’t have to feel as though you need to do the impossible to make a difference in other peoples’ lives. You can look within your own community and make it a better place through small, consistent actions. If we all do this, the cumulative impact will be enormous. Not to mention it’s amazingly gratifying to know that you are leaving your school, town, state, country, or world a better place than you found it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Nick Kyrgios. He’s had such a controversial relationship with tennis and I would love to speak with him over lunch to learn about how the game of tennis changes for those at the pro level. Why is it so contentious for him and what would his advice be to young players who want to play the game at a high level.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can find SecondServes at @secondserves.ny on Instagram. They can also reach out through the website

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Young Change Makers: Why and How Kyle Vukhac Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.