Making a Difference is not a Numbers Game

How making a difference for one child in a community can positively affect the entire community.

Leslie Segelke, Executive Director, The HAT FUND, INC.
Leslie Segelke,

At The HAT FUND we focus very strongly on making a meaningful lasting difference for each child.  This is very expensive and very time consuming but extremely worthwhile.  It is a focused effort to ensure no one falls through the cracks.  There are tremendously successful programs that are quite large and do wonderful things for huge numbers of people but at The HAT FUND we are an organization that puts a great deal of time and energy, and love into each and every child, family, community.   It grows from the seed.  We have to nourish our seedlings far better in this country… in this world. – L.S.

Where would the human civilization be today if all those from our earliest ancestors to today’s leaders were to resign themselves to never being able to make a difference in the World? Honestly we cannot reach an answer to that question because we are subconsciously living in a zone of comfort that was actually created by those, before us, who thought of us and made a difference to the lives we lead today.

Unfortunately making a difference is lots and lots of hard work. Giving away money in charity is easy but the responsibility that comes with judiciously using those charitable funds that have been received is not at all easy.  Though it may not seem so to a person outside, the task of the person entrusted with dispensing those charitable funds is extremely heart-breaking.  To an outsider, it may seem that handing over money or material is easy because they are so many who are so needy in our society that one can’t go wrong. Instant or one-off gratification is indeed easy to achieve.

From my personal experience, I can state that making a difference that lasts a life-time, not merely for that moment, to just one person from a broken home or much worse without a home, is a huge task. But, thankfully it is the most satisfying one too.

As a non-profit organization, we have two choices – do we thinly spread our efforts and resources over several or do we make a life-changing impact on a few. When we do the former, the results from that thinly-spread effort often wear off very quickly. Whereas when we do the latter, the impact often triggers several positives of much longer-lasting value. We can compare the former to air-dropping food to a disaster-struck community (it most likely only reaches the young and healthy males) and the latter to setting-up a base kitchen which has the capability of catering equally to all.

At Hat Fund, we focus on and practice more of the latter – providing impactful life-changing support to the needy child, which empowers the child’s ability to sustain independently and in the long-term rise above threshold of the needy and finally attain the status of a giver!

However, the pursuit of our goal of delivering a focused impactful difference to each child invites criticism that we ignore the larger good of the community’s needs. Such criticism is certainly not true because it is our sincere intention to leave no needy behind. Every person in need is a person of interest to us. However making a difference is not a numbers game.

At The HAT Fund, we do not claim to take on a universal burden; we take on those needy who are within sight of our community. There are ways and ways to uplift the needy; we have taken on to uplift the needy through an eco-system of imparting skills to play tennis at the highest levels with equal parts of academic achievements.

Even though we run outreach programs, we have no magic tool that brings into our line-of-sight every needy person.
Therefore we do learn, albeit belatedly, that some very needy may have missed our attention. Such a loss of the opportunity to make a difference saddens us at The HAT Fund immensely. Any student of social sciences will tell you that the most vulnerable are also often socially the most invisible; thus are frequently bypassed by conventional development efforts.

At the heart of our efforts is enriching the personality, nourishing the dreams and improving the latent skills of every needy youngster that comes our way, so that they can soon rise above the class of the needy and graduate to a class of self-sustaining individuals. No effort, time or resources are spared by us on this account. The results we have achieved are immensely encouraging and speak for themselves. A.A.

A Fighting Spirit Never give-up

I want to tell you the story of one of our remarkable students Miss-P. Miss-P is an ambitious student who has been with HFAC since it’s inception. I remember Miss-P’s first practice vividly to this day as she enchanted us all as a smiling, ambitious 6th grader. I will never forget that one specific moment during one of our very challenging fitness sessions ran by our Lead Fitness Expert, Michael Farrington. Ten minutes into the fitness portion of practice Miss-P was as white as a ghost, looked pale and seemed exhausted. One of our experts grew concerned and approached her to see if she needed a pause or a full stop break at which she said, “Nope, I’m good” and bravely continued with her fitness exercises.

Miss P, High Altitude Academy
Miss P at  High Altitude Tennis Academy, Denver, Colorado

A brave little fighter she is, and eventually made it to the last drill of the fitness session where we were doing wall sits. Then, Miss-P’s legs were shaking and tears were welling up in her eyes as she resolutely rejected the idea of quitting. When the session was over, it took her nearly 15 minutes for her to recover from one of the toughest fitness sessions she had ever experienced at her young age. The entire staff was impressed by the will power, enthusiasm and passion Miss-P presented. On the other hand, we were also worried that the intense fitness session would scare her away from her future practice sessions and further development. That is, until we all noticed her walking proudly to the car alongside her parents with a big smile on her face… she realized that she had just completed something immensely challenging which had made her better. She was profoundly satisfied… it was obvious, as she had accomplishment and satisfaction written all over her face. Her father, Pete [a former competitive rugby player], would later describe our program to others who were interested as “this place is not for sissies” … Miss-P surely is not a sissy!

Miss-P continued to return day after day improving her game and her fitness to levels she had never experience before. She was ALWAYS completely focused on what would help her improve to eventually play college tennis, and not distracted by what would give her instant short-term results. This focus was highlighted during some of her first tournaments as an HFAC player. Leading up to the tournament Miss-P had been working hard on improving her serve, and like most players who have worked on improvements in their game, she failed miserably the first few times she put them into action under the pressure of a tennis match. Actually, she could hardly make a serve in the box… yet she kept trying. She was swinging through her serve focusing on perfecting her motion confidently, with proper technique. A focus on perfection, which she knew would pay off in the future. That day, Miss-P had a choice, and she chose to think forward and be patient in her development. Which is, you must agree, very wise and quite rare for her age. Through her resiliency Miss-P worked out the kinks and went on to eventually winning three tournaments in a row! Her game was just thriving and things were looking up, way up!

Throughout my life, I have rarely seen someone as happy and satisfied as Miss-P was at the end of her winning that first tournament. She has personally entrenched her parents and the entire HF Community in a vibrating circle of satisfaction, pride and profound joy. Later, Miss-P began to become less confident in her movement and began to play with a little less balance than we were use to seeing from her. You see, one thing I purposely failed to mention was that Miss-P, previous to our program, had fought another battle with the tissue in her brain.

At age 5 she developed a brain tumor and had it successfully removed [the procedure, performed by the exceptional staff at The Children’s Hospital of Colorado is called a craniotomy and required Miss-P to endure 4 surgeries over 2 days]. Sadly, the malicious tumor had returned and Miss-P would have to once again return to the operating room.

When Miss-P awoke from her second round of surgeries she noticed something was wrong. She had lost her coordination to all the muscles on the right side of her body. Furthermore, she had trouble eating, her vision was blurry and she couldn’t write. Miss-P couldn’t walk, run or jump much less play tennis. Luckily, in Miss-P’s heart and brain, these predicaments and constraints had a curious side effect… Miss-P challenged herself and she immediately went to work. She wholeheartedly welcomed her rigorous therapy at the Children’s Hospital and she worked hard. Yes, she did, even though the doctors warned her that her remarkable progress might eventually plateau.

It was not surprising to see Miss-P returning to the tennis court. Except, things were much tougher this time around. All of the fundamentals, techniques and tactics she had learned she would have to start to relearn, without the expectation that she would ever become a great tennis player. She had hit rock bottom with her tennis when she tried out for her High School tennis team that year. Pre-surgery she would have been one of the top singles players for the team, and now to her surprise and disappointment she was on the bottom tier playing mainly Junior Varsity. This determination provided Miss-P the sour reality that her dream of playing college tennis was not in the cards. She was devastated.

Miss-P even considered quitting her favorite sport for a while, taking prolonged breaks to try rowing, basketball, and other activities. However, she couldn’t get away from the feeling that she was missing out on all that tennis had given to her. She craved the day to day challenges and improvements where she was able to notice positive changes in her fitness and tennis skills.

Thankfully, Peyton has returned to the court where she now plays 4-5 days a week in the same challenging program with elite junior tennis players from Colorado and all around the world with that basic goal and expectation that she will improve each day, one day at a time, slowly, passionately…patiently.

Miss-P teaches us that this is not simply about tennis, but really it’s about all the lessons that tennis and any other competitive sport can teach us all in order to be highly successful in any endeavor. I, with 100% conviction, believe that Peyton, due to her ambition, passion, resiliency, and phenomenal character will be one of tomorrow’s prolific leaders. At HFAC, we say all the time to each and every student accepted into our program… you are whom you hang around, and we are tremendously honored to have the opportunity to be around Miss-P and such a wonderful community of students, parents, and coaches.

-Ryan Segelke, CEO of High Altitude Tennis, LLC and HF Academy Director