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What's All the Racket?

Watson Children's Shelter Tennis Pro-Am here in Missoula for a decade

If you’re a tennis enthusiast, the event of the year is coming up. Pros from all over the world will be in town for the Watson Children's Shelter Tennis Pro-Am Presented By: Wildfire Defense Systems, Inc. and hosted by The PEAK Racquet Club. The four-day fundraiser and tournament matches pros with amateurs and all proceeds benefit Watson Children’s Shelter.

The shelter’s story started in 1968 when founder Janice Joseph Watson retired from Target Range Elementary in Missoula and started Jack and Jill Nursery. Back then, there weren’t emergency support services for children suffering from traumatic circumstances, so when families were in crisis, social workers brought children to Janice’s home as a temporary safe haven. Over time, she switched to emergency shelter care, and Watson Children’s Shelter was born. Stories of Janice’s creativity and generosity are legendary among shelter staff. Emma Anderson, Executive Director, recounted one special Christmas.

“She didn’t have a lot of money. Instead of buying a Christmas tree, the kids cut a tree out of wrapping paper and taped it to the wall,” said Emma.

Today, the nonprofit maintains two facilities that house up to 100 children annually. Each space feels more like home than a temporary residence for homeless children. There’s comfy chairs, reading nooks, a bedroom for each child, plus a full kitchen and dining room where kids eat meals—family-style. With each new arrival, the staff goes to work establishing a sense of normalcy and predictability. 

“Individualized care is so important,” Emma said. “They’re attuned to each child’s needs. Whether it’s Krysta making a child’s favorite meal or Natalie who knows everyone’s favorite book.”

Staff strives to combine a nurturing environment and trauma-informed care with routine structure. This combination has the power to create magical moments when a kid suddenly shines out of their shell. 

“Last summer, we took a group fishing trip,” Emma recalled. “There were two very shy kids. Everyone made poles out of sticks, string, and hooks but nobody was catching any fish, except these two kids. Suddenly, they’re the most excited ones in the bunch! We love seeing kids begin to relax into childhood like that,” she said.

Trained staff also helps families through the shelter’s Healthy Foundations program. They visit homes to support parents facing challenging situations but who want to better their family life and ensure that their children remain in their care. This program has proven to save costs.

“It takes 1.5 million dollars a year to shelter our kids but only $200,000 per year to provide in-home support that can prevent trauma from occurring in the first place,” said Emma. Not only is the program cost-efficient, the difficulties of 2020 proved it effective, as well. “We’re really proud that, during COVID, we were able to still serve these families. We saw no child removals during that entire time,” she said.

This year’s 10th annual tennis pro-am runs October 21 to October 24. It is open to the public and kicks off with a live auction to match pros with amateurs. Each pro takes center stage as people bid to be their partner during the tournament. 

“That night has become a favorite,” said Emma. “It doesn’t matter your skill level, and you can literally just show up to bid.” In addition to the live auction, there’s a silent auction, a raffle for a private tennis lesson with a pro, and an exhibition match where spectators can watch the highest-ranking pros play against each other.

The tournament began when Scott Potter, Tennis Pro at  PEAK Health and Wellness, reached out to the shelter. 

“I've always wanted to start a tennis pro-am and attach the event to a local charity,” Scott said. “Some of our top pros are former world-ranked players. They call me every year to ask when the pro-am will be. These pros also do events for bigger charities but they like the intimacy and class of this event,” said Scott.

The attraction of the tournament reflects our community spirit. 

“This agency is built through the generosity of Missoula. We could not do what we do every day without the help of sponsors, foundations, and individual donors. Their support allows us to provide quality care that helps children build trust. Then, when they are ready to move on, they can begin to create healthy lives for themselves.”

For more information about this event, please visit WatsonChildrensShelter.org.

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