Growing up, Jacob struggled to bond with his younger brother, Evan. “Evan was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, and it was always really hard for me to find a way to connect with him. Evan was always super quiet. He wasn’t really interested in what anyone else was doing. I saw a lot of my friends bonding with their brothers through video games, various sports. But no matter what I tried with Evan, we just couldn’t find that connection.”
The brothers’ turning point came through tennis. Jacob started playing at age 8, taking lessons at the Anaheim Tennis Center with his family every Sunday. Though Evan usually preferred to sit on the sidelines, one day he joined Jacob on the court. “Evan and I did that first lesson together, and honestly, it was amazing. It was just different from what I was used to seeing from Evan. I got to see him smile. I got to see him laugh. It was something that changed my whole family because Evan and I were able to find our special connection on the tennis court that day.”
Inspired by his brother’s enthusiasm, Jacob recruited his two best friends to form the non-profit Serving Advantage in 2020. Like Eusebio, cofounders Natalie Rodriguez and Andy Loughran are high school seniors and varsity tennis players. Their goal was to offer adaptive tennis programs to kids with intellectual or developmental disabilities, teaching not only tennis techniques but methods to improve students’ social skills. The founders attained permits and licensing for coaching and court space, planned curriculum, and put on the first five-day tennis camp in July 2020, with bimonthly clinics since. By the time Serving Advantage hosted its second summer camp this year, the program had grown to include 52 students and 50 volunteers from 17 area high schools.
When you serve in tennis, you have the advantage. … We wanted
to serve the advantage to special-needs kids by giving them the social skills they needed to be successful.
“We really had no idea how things were going to turn out, whether people would be able to forge a connection. A lot of students are more quiet at the very beginning of the week. As the week unfolded, we saw them become more social. We actually saw their smiles as they walked on the court. We got to hear them laugh together. And every month, we see new stu- dents wanting to come in because they see the moments and memories that our students and volunteers have been able to form both on and off the court.”
Eusebio was one of six students in the nation awarded the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award for his work. He represented the non-profit at the 2021 ESPN Sports Humanitarian Awards in New York. In addition to earning a $10,000 grant for the nonprofit and mentorship opportunities, he got to meet the tennis legend. “I and the other (awardees) got to have lunch with her. It was an amazing experience. She’s just as she is when I see her online—super knowledgeable, super nice, and she was super open to hearing what we all had to say. It was inspiring just to see so many influential peo- ple in the sports industry using their talents to do good.”