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Andy Roddick Foundation expands virtual offerings for afterschool learning with new kits

The Andy Roddick Foundation is offering a Whatchamafeelit Kit with a drawstring backpack and activities inside for kids at home.

The Andy Roddick Foundation was celebrating 20 years of providing afterschool and summer programs to kids in its partner elementary schools when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The year before, the foundation received the New York Life Foundation’s Excellence in Summer Learning Award, one of four programs across the country to be honored. 

"Now all the sudden we can't do what we do well," says founder Andy Roddick. "We have to go virtual, (and) try to build off that platform." 

Going virtual meant shifting programming to Zoom while figuring out how to provide technology to the families it serves who didn't have good internet connectivity or devices. And the foundation had to create a family emergency fund to solve for problems that were outside of the normal scope of its budget, Roddick said.

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The foundation shifted quickly and began delivering virtual services and programming. And soon, the foundation had what Roddick calls "our big lightbulb ideas." It could serve more students without worrying about which school they attend or in which ZIP code they lived.

Last summer, the foundation opened its virtual programming to the world. This summer it's continued to offer virtual-only programs, while planning to be back in schools in fall. You can access those virtual programs on your time at arfoundation.org/summercamp.

This summer it's also launching a social emotional toolbox called Whatchamafeelit Kits. Inside a drawstring backpack, kids will receive 16 activities with links to videos to watch while doing the activities, a materials list; a  T-shirt, pencils and pencil case; A-to-Z emotion cards and stickers; pins; and a wristband. Each kit will have a parent guide.

Each Whatchamafeelit Kit comes with activities and videos kids can watch about the activity.

The kits will teach five social emotional learning skills the foundation has been incorporating:

• Self-awareness

• Self-management

• Social awareness

• Relationship skills

• Responsible decision-making

The kits will be available starting July 12. The kits are available at arfoundation.org and are $325. When families buy one kit, they'll give another kit to one of the kids served by the foundation. 

The Whatchamafeelit Kits are a blend of the social emotional lessons the foundation had been delivering in-person before the pandemic and what it's learned to deliver virtually, Roddick says. 

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The hope is that the kits will be another way the foundation can scale the work it has been doing and reach more kids geographically. 

Roddick, who has two children with wife Brooklyn Decker, looks forward to his 5-year-old son doing the activities in the Whatchamafeelit Kit. His 3-year-old daughter might not be ready for it, he says.

Andy Roddick attends the red carpet for the annual Andy Roddick Foundation Gala in 2019. The foundation turned 20 during the pandemic and has now diversified its services to add more virtual programming.

Roddick started his foundation in 2000, when he turned 18 and became a professional tennis player. He followed the advice fellow tennis star Andre Agassi gave him: Do not wait to start a foundation.

Roddick says "he was really fortunate," because when he looked around, tennis greats like Agassi, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe and Martina Navratilova all had their own foundations that worked on different causes. He and CEO Richard Tagle researched and asked themselves "What would add the most value?" Roddick says. Offering programming for out of school time seemed obvious, Roddick says, plus there was a void of people working in that space.

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The foundation has since raised more than $20 million to support afterschool and summer learning programs for Austin kids. 

Roddick retired from tennis in 2012 and now does some work for the Tennis Channel. He says he's played tennis a handful of times since January. "It doesn't take priority," he says of his tennis. 

He might always be known as a tennis star, but his focus is the foundation. "To me, you do the work and wherever the chips fall, that's where they are going to land," he says about whether he will be known as a tennis star or a philanthropist.

The Andy Roddick Foundation was doing in-person afterschool and summer programming for Austin kids before the pandemic. It will return to in-person programming in fall.

The foundation and its team have learned a lot in its first 20 years, and Roddick is grateful the pivot that had to happen with the pandemic did not come sooner in the foundation's life. The pivot, though, has helped the foundation grow while still serving kids who had to move outside of the three Austin schools the foundation has served. 

Roddick's hope is that the foundation will pair best practices of virtual with best practice of in-person to build a stronger program, but he is eager to get staff back in-person this fall.

"I know our staff," he says. "Their fuel is the hugs and smiles they get from our kids. I know those are desperately needed."