To hear Arthur Goldblatt modestly tell it, his last 20 plus years starting programs, spearheading fundraising efforts and personally giving tennis and life lessons to hundreds, if not thousands, of underprivileged children in Connecticut was the result of one thing—serendipity.

It was serendipitous that he grew Norwalk Grassroots Tennis from a casual summer diversion for 10 to 20 children into a $400,000 annual program that has produced state and New England champions. It was serendipitous that he was able to connect other like-minded city programs with the Connecticut Alliance for Tennis & Education (CATE), allowing the groups to grow together while gaining funding and leadership. It was serendipitous that he guided kids not only through the tennis program, but also to high school degrees, colleges and beyond. “Art Goldblatt is a Connecticut saint,” says Alex Seaver, a co-founder of CATE. “He’s a very humble, elegant guy who never wants credit. He’s inspired all of us.”

A Powerful
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A Powerful Alliance

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A Yale-educated lawyer, Goldblatt joined the Peace Corps in Ethiopia at age 29. That’s where his tennis roots took hold. “When I was there I traded English lessons for tennis lessons, and became quite good,” he says. “When I returned to Connecticut I opened a law office in Norwalk, and got to know a lot of people in low-income areas. I was [struck] by the condition of so many grown men, selling and using drugs. There wasn’t much we could do for them.”

At the age of 61, Goldblatt closed his practice to take on a new challenge—teaching tennis to at-risk children from Norwalk. He contacted city officials to see if there was a program in place he could work with. There wasn’t, so he started one, cobbling together a board of directors that included Harlan Stone, who later became chief marketing officer for the USTA. “We hired a tennis pro, started with a summer program and it was successful,” Goldblatt says. “Kids got to understand what the game was about.”

Goldblatt wanted more, but there was no money. So he raised it himself, enough to hire a pro for six months a year. “What we had was a Band-Aid,” he says. “I wanted the kids to be mentored for more than just summer months, and for more than just tennis.”

Goldblatt started Norwalk Grassroots Tennis, with the slogan Court/Classroom/College/Career. He contributed money as well as his services, using his house as the headquarters. Soon after, Stone offered to run a charity tournament, which raised $50,000 for Grassroots. “Harlan said there was a lot of wealth in the Fairfield County area, and had a friend, Alex Seaver, whom he knew would like what was happening,” says Goldblatt. Seaver, a successful investment firm founder and managing partner, did like it, and wanted to help. He helped start CATE four years ago, not only to help the Norwalk program, but others as well.

“The Alliance idea has been to help the tennis programs for disadvantaged kids in Norwalk, New Haven, Danbury, Bridgeport and Stamford organize together,” Seaver says. “These groups were grinding away with not a lot of bandwidth to spend time with each other. The genesis of CATE was to have them connect. Art came up with a mothership concept. Now we’re able to discuss the best practices and fundraising methods to maximize benefits for all.”

CATE has blossomed into an organization that reaches more than 4,000 children. The tennis programs offer a path to success beyond the obvious benefits of exercise, teamwork and goal setting. By engaging youth with tennis in their neighborhoods, CATE also provides funding for academic support, life-skills coaching, nutritional education, field trips, and college and career counseling.

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A Powerful
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A Powerful Alliance

Raising money to pay for coaches and equipment is a central focus. Each of the five city programs has its own fundraising, while CATE’s major event is an annual pro-am tennis tournament and gala. Held in September at Darien’s Woodway Country Club, former pro James Blake was this year’s featured speaker. All proceeds, about half a million dollars the past few years, are funneled back to help children in the five cities.

“The Alliance takes a collective approach, as all of us are dealing with the same subset of kids to make sure the support is used in the best way,” says Carl Bailey, a founder of the Danbury program and a CATE board member. “The kids eat well, they’re exercising, they’re playing tennis and they’re getting good grades. It’s everything you’d want your own children to be and to have, and it’s the goal of this program.”

Of course Goldblatt, even into his 80s, is not looking to slow down any time soon. “Tennis players know how much the sport can do for you, by way of health, friends, self-confidence and having fun in life,” he says. “We started the Alliance to sort of crystallize that goodwill, and help it rain down to earth.”