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Britt is Director of Tennis at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, and a founder of the Tucson Community Tennis Program. He's been a tennis instructor for 30 years. Jil is a clinical dietician and author whose specialty is failure-to-thrive children. She's served as both faculty and as an associate at the University of Arizona for the past 18 years. Britt and Jil have three children: Evan, 13; Emilee, 10; and Alexandra, 7.
TW: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INTRODUCTION TO COMMUNITY WORK?
Jil: My main job is as the dietician at a multi-disciplinary clinic at the University of Arizona, called the Nutrition and Growth Clinic. I work with a social worker named Lyn Cheevers and a pediatrician named Anna Binkiewicz. We run the clinic out of the Department of Pediatrics, and from that grew the Medically Vulnerable Program at Casa de los Niños.
The year before I came, Casa was funded for one year to do a special clinic called "Children Can Thrive." Sometimes part of the diagnosis of Failure to Thrive is to place children outside the home to see if you can help them grow. The hospital is no longer the best place to do that, because it's an acute-care setting; you don't have the same kind of facilities you did 10 or 15 years ago. So this was funded as a place that was less high-tech but had more care providers, which is what children need in that kind of situation.
We have patients all across the board. Any child with a problem with growing, or who has a disease that may be associated with growth problems--we see all of them. Depending on our patient load at Casa, I'm usually involved in the clinic in some form or another for four to five hours a week. Not a lot.
When Britt started the Community Tennis Foundation (some years ago), it brought our lives together; it started a spark. Our lives started getting more focused toward children, education, and disadvantaged children.
TW: WHAT ARE SOME OF CASA DE LOS NI&NTILDE;OS' SUCCESS STORIES OF THE PAST YEAR?
Jil: One story in particular stands out: a little girl who came to Casa. She was very thin, and couldn't/wouldn't eat an adequate amount. As her nutrition improved, this child flourished. All of a sudden she was having eye contact, she was interacting socially, she was smiling, she was laughing, she was interested in toys. Her recovery was so remarkable: Everybody was thrilled the day that she got mad when somebody tried to take a toy away, because this had been a child that just sat there. Children that don't have an adequate amount of food don't have enough energy to interact. And if you don't have enough energy to interact, you can't learn...You have no building blocks.
Working with the staff at Casa has been the most wonderful experience I've ever had with a group of professionals, because it happens. You make suggestions on formulas, and it happens. And they have a well-trained staff for feeding. The nursing staff--Rosie Dyer is the head of the nursing staff--and Jean Fast are fabulous. They're registered nurses who really make the program work.
There's a grant called the Victims of Crime Act, and through that funding source they have been able to pay a group of five professionals to come in and evaluate children right away when they come into the Casa. There's a speech therapist, a physical therapist, another feeding therapist, a dietician, and a bonding therapist on that team. They've been on board for a year. In fact, they were told that it's so successful that funding will continue for that program.
TW: WHAT IS THE TUCSON COMMUNITY TENNIS PROGRAM?
Britt: It's a way for children to have something to do after school: to spend time with caring adults, get some exercise, and learn more about the game of tennis. Most of us feel that if a child can spend some time learning good ethics and exercising with some adults that care about them, it would be a lot different for a lot of kids.
TW: HOW DOES THE TUCSON COMMUNITY TENNIS PROGRAM WORK?
Britt: There are two parts. The schools program is structured so that we pick a school in need of some help (mostly in South Tucson), and the (national organization) USTA provides a curriculum for the instructors, and tennis rackets for teaching purposes. The Tucson Community Tennis Program pays for the instructors and buys rackets for the children after they graduate. Program volunteers go to the school once a week and give a half-hour lesson to anywhere from 30 to 50 children per class. We do about three classes. So we could be reaching 100 to 120 kids, teaching them the basics of tennis on a playground.
At the end (about six weeks), the children "graduate" with a trip to Randolph Park, where they play on a real court. They're given a tennis racket, which they get to keep. That's kind of the highlight of that part of the program.
After that, we're trying to offer a program where we provide transportation and instruction once a week, so the kids can continue to play and interact with their coaches in an after-school tennis program.
Most of the funding is raised locally. We're helped somewhat by USTA, but a lot of the donations come from local businesses like the El Conquistadors, and by people in the community. Loews has been very supportive, and many of the club members are volunteers. I feel really good about the way our company has worked with me.
TW: HOW MANY VOLUNTEERS ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
Britt: Hundreds of volunteers give their time to go with the pros or work after school with the kids. The entire foundation is volunteer, and all the assisting instructors are volunteers. That's been an incredible response. Our volunteers range in age from 14 to 90.
Jil: My mom's only 87.
Britt: Okay, 87!
TW: WHAT'S ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF VOLUNTEERISM YOU'VE SEEN IN ACTION?
Jil: There's also the Crippled Children's Clinic, run by St. Andrew's. It's a totally volunteer clinic set up for children with developmental disabilities in Mexico. It's staffed by pediatricians, medical students, orthopedic surgeons, orthopedists, physical therapists, speech therapists and dieticians, who go down to Nogales once a month. We see about 400 people--whole families, who come up to receive additional care and equipment. Basically, this is third-world medicine being practiced 60 miles away.
Many of the volunteers are from Tucson, and there's some--including interpreters--from Nogales. They're a long-term organization that's made a tremendous difference. I think they're celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. It's phenomenal.
In the nutrition area, we usually see 20 patients in a long half-day. They're more complicated than anything I see in my practice here. We can't offer the same solutions, because they simply can't afford them. So we have to come up with less high-tech methods, using foods that are available locally. It's a real challenge to all of us who practice high-tech medicine. (Basha's donates food to the clinic every month.)
TW: WHAT'S THE BEST THING YOU'VE DONE FOR YOUR OWN KIDS IN THE PAST YEAR?
Jil: Last March, we (my daughter Emily and I) started a mother-daughter reading club. It's been fabulous! There's a group of 10 that get together and talk about the book, and talk about each other, and it's a very positive experience. They're all 9- and 10-year-olds. We've read some great books: A View From Saturday and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, by E.L. Konigsburg; A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle; and now we're reading Little Women.
It's been the greatest of experiences, getting to know all these girls, and getting to know even the moms in a different way. The first meeting we went around the room and had the girls describe their moms, and say what characteristics they admired about them; and then the moms did the same thing about the girls. It was so enlightening--you never know that sort of thing.
Britt: I thoroughly love going camping in the Chiracahuas, because you're trapped down there with just your children, and all you have to do is spend time with them: cook and clean up meals, and survive in the not-very-much wilderness, since you do have a bathroom. And portable showers: You take one up there, leave it on a rock (to heat), it's a lot of fun.
Jil: Britt's the only one who showers; we just watch.
Britt: I figure, cheap entertainment!
Jil: Mule Shoe Ranch is also worth a mention: It's jointly run by the Bureau of Land Management, the Nature Conservancy, and the National Forest Service. It's this lodge and group of casitas hooked together, and it's available for anybody to rent. It's north of Willcox, in the Galiuvo Mountains. Because there's quite a bit of dirt road, it's a good three hours.
TW: WHAT'S THE FAVORITE LUNCH OF ATHLETES AND DIETICIANS?
Britt: My favorite lunch is to go to the Flying V (at Ventana Resort) and eat the pulled-pork sandwich, drink a glass of iced-tea, and watch the golf balls roll off the end of the 18th hole and into the water. That's worth the drive from anywhere in town. It's a beautiful place to have lunch, the food is great, and it's a great view.
Jil: I'm sure Don Juan's taco stand (in El Con mall) is still there. It's actually my favorite place for dinner--a fast dinner on the way home. Lots of families eat there, I've noticed. It's great because I imagine that I'm in Tijuana, on my way down to Mexico, and that's the kind of set-up you have--all the lime, all the salsa, and all the cilantro you could want on your taco. It's great.
Also, my son and I have stopped at Fronimo's so often that now they know us, which is always a nice occurrence. They're so friendly when you walk in. It's in El Rancho shopping center, near where the Rumrunner and Reay's Ranch Market are. They have a chicken gyro sandwich that we love. I don't think there are many other places that have chicken gyros; most are lamb.
TW: WHAT'S A GREAT NIGHT OUT IN TOWN?
Britt: Yuki Sushi--I first met Yuki when he started working at Sakura, and he was one of the most charismatic people cutting fish that I'd ever met in my life. When I saw he'd opened a place that had never been open for more than five minutes at a time in a little shopping center near our house, I said, "I've got to go in!" I've been going back ever since.
Jil: There's a sushi dish called the caterpillar, with avocado on the outside. It's grand--it's beautiful and it tastes wonderful.
Britt: I really like anything with squid. I just like looking at the little suckers, where they hold on to things. It looks like it sticks with you.
Jil: Yuki prepares these wonderful sculptures in oranges for the kids; he sculpts orange faces, and orange cats. It's very thoughtful.