In the current economic climate where nonprofits are making extraordinary efforts to fill a ballroom for a benefit gala, where PR people are calling me, saying tickets sales are way down from last year, won’t you put something in the paper, it is remarkable and just plain impressive that the National Junior League of Trenton pulled in over 400 guests from central New Jersey and Bucks County at $175 a pop to their Friday, May 1, gala, at the Westin. And that’s with no major celebrity or well-known speaker to draw them in. In fact, David Dinkins (a member of NJTL’s advisory board) was supposed to come but cancelled. It didn’t seem to matter. A cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing to the music of the band Off the Record seemed more than plenty entertainment — and a keen opportunity to show off the results of slaving away at the gym (and tanning salon) all winter long.

The event, which included a silent and live auction, grossed, according to development coordinator Robert A. Howland, over $300,000, and that’s before the final tally. The highest auction item — a week at the Ritz Carlton Grand Caymen private residences — pulled in a cool $11,500. It’s actually kind of refreshing to know that in this economy, people with money are still willing to spend it to support a nonprofit.

Forty years ago, 1968 U.S. Open champion Arthur Ashe founded the National Junior Tennis League. Today there are 535 chapters nationwide. The Trenton chapter was founded in 1975 by Jim Clovis, who spent the better part of his career at Rohm and Haas in research and business development, and his wife, Connie, a founder of the Village Charter School in Trenton, along with Clovis’s colleague at Rohm and Haas, Jack Geisel; Bill Stoner, and Jack DeGrouchy, a CPA and founder of deGrouchy, Sifer & Co. in Richboro, PA. The Trenton chapter was named NJTL chapter of the year in 2007.

The NJTL uses its tennis program as a backdrop for teaching broader life skills such as teamwork and sportsmanship, character development, and academic skills, through tutoring and homework help. In its first year NJTL of Trenton served 35 kids in Cadwalader Park. Today it serves over 1,700 children in after-school and summer programs. The money raised at this year’s gala will go to support NJTL’s year-round tennis, education, and nutrition programs.

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