More than 30 young people got off a bus Friday night, Dec. 12, and spilled onto the courts at Four Seasons Racquet Club on Danbury Road for some tennis and then their third annual holiday party. The players \u2014 with their coaches and volunteers \u2014 are members of Norwalk Grassroots Tennis, a nonprofit organization that helps children from low-income families access opportunities they might otherwise not have. The program spans athletics, education and socialization. The children range from 8 to 18 and mostly live in Norwalk\u2019s inner city. The project began in 1995 when Art Goldblatt and a group of fellow tennis players wanted to give the children an opportunity to play the game. In 2000, David Kimani, who accompanied the children to Four Seasons, joined the staff and is director of tennis and programming. A former captain of the Kenyan National Junior Tennis team, he came to the United States, earned a master\u2019s degree in sports management from Springfield College, and worked as a professional at King\u2019s Highway Tennis Club in Darien. When he joined, Mr. Kimani said, the program was limited to the summer when children could play outdoors on public courts. There was only one team of 12 children, and he would bring them to King\u2019s Highway to play friendly matches. As the organization began to grow to a year-round program, many area tennis clubs stepped up to offer court time in the winter, including New Canaan Racquet Club, Chelsea Piers, King\u2019s Highway, Shippan Racquet Club, Sylvan Tennis Club, and Four Seasons. The program increased its ranks to more than 250 children with six teams playing in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) junior league. \u201cTonight we have U14, U16, U18,\u201d Mr. Kimani said at Four Seasons on Friday. \u201cTomorrow, U8, U10, U12 will play in New Canaan.\u201d \u201cThe kids have the potential. What they need is the exposure,\u201d he said. Two of the students have won scholarships to play at Chelsea Piers. \u201cThey are able to play to the standards of the other players,\u201d Mr. Kimani said. The program is free to the children who join \u2014 free racquets, free shoes, free training. Recruitment is mostly by word of mouth, as well as being family-oriented. If one child from a family participates, his or her siblings likely will as well. Right now, seven of the players are ranked by the USTA and they play in tournaments every other month. Mr. Kimani wants to increase the amount of tournament play to help students win college scholarships, since colleges consider players\u2019 rankings when awarding grants. Playing tennis is only one aspect of the Grassroots program. There is a strong educational component as well. Players are expected to do well in school. \u201cIf they need help, we get them tutors and help,\u201d Mr. Kimani said. \u201cFrom school we tell them they are going to college. It\u2019s court, classroom, college, career.\u201d When players turn 14, they have an opportunity to work for the program and thus \u201cbecome role models to the younger kids,\u201d Mr. Kimani said. \u201cThey learn the benefits of a paid job.\u201d One player getting ready to make the leap to college is Sehvrine Lezeau, a 17-year-old senior at Brien McMahon High School. She joined in 2009, following in the footsteps of her cousins. She had never played tennis before, and although most of the other players engage in multiple sports, tennis is it for Sehvrine. She hopes to continue playing at the club level in college. With her sights set on majoring in engineering and minoring in business, Sehvrine has been preparing by taking \u201csome challenging courses\u201d with the help of tutors provided by the tennis program. \u201cIf you need it, they will find a way to help you,\u201d Sehvrine said. Duly Bolivar, 15, has been with the program three or four years. He likes the sport, he said, but he also likes the help he gets with school and the feeling of community. \u201cIf you need any help, you can go to Grassroots,\u201d he said Friday night. \u201cIt\u2019s a big family. It\u2019s a good thing to be connected with.\u201d Volunteers Mr. Kimani said one invaluable aspect of the program\u2019s success is the generosity of volunteers. \u201cVolunteers have helped us lift our program to where the kids are playing in tournaments,\u201d he said. This takes them \u201cout of their own domain\u201d and offers them new experiences. Many of the programs volunteers are tennis players themselves, like Sean Cahill of Wilton, who was on hand coaching Friday night. He is also on the fund-raising committee. \u201cThe game of tennis teaches so much about cooperation, hard work, making decisions, overcoming adversity, and how to figure it out,\u201d he said when asked about the value of the program. \u201cSportsmanship. I love the way Grassroots teaches that.\u201d As a member of Four Seasons, he has watched the Grassroots players over the years. \u201cI have seen the kids grow,\u201d he said. \u201cSome are teaching \u2026 I\u2019m amazed by that,\u201d he said referring to a number of Grassroots players who have gone on to become professional tennis instructors after leaving the program. \u201cIt teaches life skills.\u201d Party After more than an hour of practice, the players came off the courts for their holiday party, which included pizzas donated by Pinocchio Pizza; cupcakes, cookies and festive plates and napkins from Stop & Shop; and water, chips and other snacks from the Village Market. Norwalk Grassroots Tennis has been coming to Four Seasons, a family-owned business, for several years. Greg Moran, one of the owners, said he thinks Grassroots \u201cis a fabulous program.\u201d \u201cTheir goals are combining sports and education. That will give the kids a chance of a better life.\u201d Grassroots is just one of the charitable programs the tennis club helps. \u201cWe\u2019ve been here nearly 40 years, and it may sound corny, but tennis has been very, very good to us and the town has been very, very good to us.\u201d As a way of giving back, each year the club sponsors a charity event to open its outdoor season. Some beneficiaries have been breast cancer groups, Wounded Warriors, victims of the Japan tsunami, and special needs children.