First Serve Profile by Jordan Baca

In order to truly understand the impact First Serve – New Mexico has had on my life, it is necessary to know what was going on in the background for the six years I was in the program. I was, for a long time, the definition of “at risk,” because certain setbacks that would be minor bumps in the road for some could have thrown my family and I severely off course. It was not an easy period of time for us, but just as one thing could tip the scales for the worst, First Serve was one of the major things that pushed me in a positive direction. This program had an important role in the trajectory of my adolescence, and even my family. I can’t imagine where I’d be now if I hadn’t chosen this path, and received the guidance I did along the way.

At the time I joined First Serve, my family was toeing the line between poverty and middle class. My mother, in efforts to keep making ends meet, was stuck in a turbulent, unsteady relationship so that the bills would be paid on time. We were on welfare, and she had to work full time in order to keep us afloat – not doing so would sacrifice our healthcare. This translated to a home life where my brother and I were often support for each other because our parents were stretched too thin to be present, and too at odds to be emotionally available.

Joining First Serve was a practical choice. My mother knew the risks of leaving a thirteen-year-old to her own devices for a matter of hours after school. She didn’t want me to get sucked into anything that would make me grow up faster than I already was, so she told me I needed to choose an after school program. First Serve was a much smaller program back then, and I chose it because I had an interest in tennis and I liked the idea of finishing my homework before going home. I thought learning tennis in particular could help me bond with my stepfather, as he had been a great athlete when he was younger. I was really only looking at it as a regular afterschool program, like others I had been in for years before. I wasn’t expecting to gain so much from it, or for First Serve to become such a touchstone for my adolescence, and beyond.

Jordan at a 2011 exhibition

I was part of the program for six straight years, in the school year and the summer. From seventh through twelfth grade, the program saw me through many ups and downs in life – from inevitable traumas and familial hardships to great triumphs. One of the key things I gained from being in First Serve was a stable and structured environment that I could return to every day, no matter what was going on in my home life. In tutoring, there were mentors and teachers who helped me stay on track with assignments and grades. I also made a lot of friends in the program that became a sort of extended family. The people in First Serve really made me feel like I had a place during times when I didn’t get that feeling anywhere else. At the program, the weight of everything else was alleviated for a time.

My mother raised me with the support and encouragement to determine my future – she never pressured me to be or do anything that I didn’t want for myself. So, I was a relatively self-sustaining student. I took to school and really enjoyed learning. I was often ahead of the curve in my subjects, but at the same time I struggled emotionally. I struggled over internal roadblocks that got me involved in friendships and relationships that reflected the diminished image of my own worth. Eleanor and Elizabeth have stuck by me through all of that, and invested in me in times when I wasn’t able to invest in myself.

Continually, Eleanor and Elizabeth have shown me my own worth with their support. They wrote me a stellar recommendation letter that helped me get a major college scholarship (without which I wouldn’t have been able to afford college at all). And, knowing that I had a passion for writing, they gave me my first writing job while I was in college at the University of Northern Colorado, both giving me experience in my field and setting a precedent for the value of my work. Of all the programs I have been a part of, First Serve has been the most dedicated to keeping in touch and involved in my life, as I have been out of the program for about four years. I’m extremely proud that I can be one of the first degree-holding students to come out of the program, and I have deep gratitude to First Serve for their part in my development. My younger brother is even a part of the program now, and I can see in him the same building confidence I experienced.

At its core, I think First Serve – New Mexico serves children by unlocking their talent and drive, and showing them how to maintain it. The program is really all about showing kids that they’re worth the fight, the money, and the time, no matter who they are or where they come from. It encourages them not only to dream, but also to learn and do what it takes to achieve those dreams, so that the next generation can break the patterns in their lives that keep them from attaining their highest level of achievement.