Squash Haven Prevails—Off The Court

Allan Appel Photo Osuman Imoro was struggling at Fair Haven School. Now he’s spending five days a week with athletic and academic mentors swinging a squash racket and boosting his scores on the court and in the classroom.

A group called Squash Haven now has $20,000 more to help kids like Osuman break into the traditionally Ivy League and prep school sport and raise their educational horizons now that the group has emerged the surprise winner of a citywide contest among groups that do good.

With only three employees, the little non-profit-that-could beat out dozens of area non-profits in a contest to raise the most $50-and-up donations from the most donors between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31.

Squash Haven, which was founded in 2006s, corralled 413 gifts of $50 or more totaling $30,000; that won the first prize of $20,000.

The contest was run by by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven (CFGH) to coincide with launch of a new online giving platform called giveGreater.org. The win surprised CFGNH Communications Manager Tricia Caldwel. For such a new and small organization, she said, “they came out of nowhere.”

Well, almost nowhere.

giveGreater.org is a new resource that emphasizes social media and new technology to raise the dollars. To prepare for the contest, Squash Haven Executive Director Julie Greenwood created a detailed profile for the new giving site. Then Squash Haven iots their own site and created the requisite link.

On the morning of the first day, Greenwood said, her group put out an email blast at 7:30 to their list to win an “early bird” prize. That was another one of the incentives from the CFGH, which had set aside a pot of $200,000 to entice non-profits to participate.

“By Thursday of the first week, we checked the leader board, and we were in first place,” said Greenwood. The group had raised $7,000 already.

A former squash player and coach at Williams College, Greenwood (shown here high-fiving with Edgewood School’s Aaron Brevard) said that although they were up against venerable and large orchestras, museums, and hospitals, it didn’t hurt that her little organization had an athletic, competitive spirit.

And the $50 amount was cleverly crafted, she said. That amount enabled her to appeal not just to the wealthiest donors, but to Squash Haven’s many volunteers and its wider circle of supporters.

In the final days before the contest’s New Year’s Eve finale, Squash Haven’s lead had narrowed to 15 donors.

Staffers made a big push reaching out to all their sister organizations, 10 other members of the National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA).  It helped that squash is a small sport where still everybody knows everybody.When the competition closed, they were 60 donors ahead.

Greenwood had figured that larger, more established organizations would have more sophisticated sites and approaches and would therefore beat out Squash Haven.

Not so. Squash Haven raised $30,000 and now gets the $20,000 matching prize money. With that money, Greenwood said, she hopes to hire another staff member to bring in another class of 12 or so New Haven school kids to augment the 50 they have in the much sought-after program.

Which would be fine for kids like Osuman, Carmelo Reyes, and Seth Ortiz, the latter playing at one of Yale’s courts in the photo above.

Seth Ortiz said that he first discovered squash on a field trip to the Yale gym when he was in the fifth grade. It has become his favorite sport. Plus he likes how many friends he makes.

Greenwood said the commitment to the kids and families is for the long haul starting in the fourth grade. It will extend through helping the kids into college.

There, the students all said, they plan to play squash.

For now, squash and academics five days a week after school have helped turn Osuman’s Cs into Bs. Plus he’s no longer having trouble on his CMTs.The best part, he said, is that he loves everything about the game.

The program also requires 10 hours of community service per year. Osuman said he and his friends fulfilled part of that recently giving some kids from Iraq connected to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services IRIS their first experience ever of squash.

In the Community Foundation contest, Christian Community Action, Columbus House, Gaylord Hospital, Neighborhood Music School, and Solar Youth all won prizes ranging from $5,000 to $15,000. Forty other organizations won prize money worth $2,875 each. Click here for a complete list.

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posted by: westville on January 21, 2011  12:04pm

congrats to squash haven!  coach julie is a firecracker, the perfect woman for the job!

posted by: Joshua Sloat on January 21, 2011  12:38pm

Congratulations to Julie, Christi, and the rest of Squash Haven team.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on January 21, 2011  2:46pm

Way cool!

posted by: EAL on January 22, 2011  6:06am

An awesome program!