Samantha Pree-Stinson is a networker. She’s someone people talk to, no matter where she is—in line at the grocery store or waiting for the bus.
“Luke makes fun of me all the time for it,” says Sam, referring to her son, who has been involved in the Tennis2College program at Fred Wells Tennis & Education Center for two years. “But the way I present myself is the way I really am, and that’s what people are drawn to.”
She’s put her natural talents for connecting with people to good use—heading a women’s network through her employer, Medtronic, working with a 4H group through her son’s school, running communications committees on two PTA’s.
And, now, launching the “Family Involvement Committee” for FWTEC’s youth development initiative, Tennis2College.
The committee will be formed primarily of parents and family members of participants in Tennis2College —though “anyone is welcome,” says Sam—and will provide support and resources to the relatively new program.
“Our function would be to support the Tennis2College initiative through volunteering and fundraising,” says Sam. It might sound dry, but it should be anything but. The first event Sam envisions? A carnival. The second? A gala.
“I think it will make Tennis2College more self-sustaining,” says Sam. “And it’s important to show not only the staff but the board and big money donors that the parents are committed, that we want to be involved—to show appreciation for this great program.”
Back in January, Sam decided to show her own appreciation by joining the Tennis2College committee, a group of board members, staff and volunteers that oversees the Tennis2College program. This spring, she helped to muster up record attendance at a T2C family dinner.
Sam’s oldest son Luke, a seventh-grader at Northeast Middle School, has been involved in Tennis2College for two years, and she says it’s been an impactful force in his life.
“He’s not in the same boat that my husband and I were in when we were young, lacking role models,” she says, “but it takes a village. To have outside people who see his potential and believe in him… I feel that the staff at Fred Wells has engrained in him it’s okay to be an individual, that you don’t have to make excuses for who you are.”
Positive role models, says Sam, can make all the difference. She speaks from experience. Her own childhood was peppered with people who pushed her—not her parents, but outside influencers like her hardworking grandfather who always had encouragement and guidance to offer, and a dedicated third-grade teacher who saw her potential and put her on the gifted and talented track at school.
Growing up in an L.A. suburb, academics were her outlet—the force that kept her immune to the lure of drugs and gangs that seduced friends and family. When she was a teenager, her family began to move around a lot. It was in switching schools often, she says, that she really learned to network.
“When you move to a new place, you have to present yourself—you have to think about what impression you’re going to leave on people that will make them want to talk to you,” she says.
She finished up high school in Minnesota—then enrolled at Minneapolis Business College, earned her associate degree and began working as a medical assistant. But “it wasn’t enough,” says Sam. So she joined the Army.
“I always knew I wanted to help people,” Sam says. “So I joined as a paramedic, and went to Afghanistan for fourteen months. It really put my life into perspective. I thought my own story was hard enough—but there I saw what it’s really like to not have anything.
“The main stuff I did there was humanitarian efforts—trying to network with people, figure out what their needs were. It brought home the importance of investing in your own community.
It’s a lesson she hasn’t forgotten.
“That’s what I feel my legacy is,” says Sam. “If I were gone tomorrow, I think people would say, ‘Sam was all over the place but super involved in working with people and helping people change lives.’ And it all comes back to networking and the ability to reach people.”
Her hope is that the Family Involvement Committee proves a part of that legacy—that she can help drum up support for Tennis2College, which aims to empower kids whose childhoods parallel her own. The ultimate goal of the program—to help youth to graduate from high school with a strong post-secondary trajectory—is one Sam can appreciate firsthand.
“I hope this committee will strengthen relationships between the parents and children involved,” says Sam. “The majority of these families aren’t your typical “American dream family”—they are kids living with grandparents, between homes, with one parent. When I was young, it was hard on my self-esteem that there was nobody there. I was doing all this really cool stuff, but there was nobody out in that audience I could see. If children see their parents getting involved, and it feels like they’re working together, it will really strengthen relationships at home.”
Interested in getting involved in the Family Involvement Committee? Email Tom at Tom@fwtec.org