By Nell Schwed
Freshman at Dana Hall School, squash player and founder of her own nonprofit, Sydney Soloway uses the sport she loves to help children in need through SquashCares.
Soloway’s squash career started early—in the fifth grade—but she wasn’t serious about it until joining the TOG Squash Academy, two years later. Squash provided a friendly, tight community where Soloway has made some of her closest friends, and she continues to excel on the Dana Hall varsity team.
In September of 2014, Soloway, inspired by a similar movement at a squash club in Finland, started collecting used squash balls. Once destined for the garbage, Soloway knew those balls could be used to make therapy blankets for children with attention disorders, like ADHD and ADD, or even children with autism. There is something about the weight of the blanket—the added texture of the squash balls—that acts as a calming agent.
“People often have a hard time believing I run SquashCares mainly by myself,” Soloway said. “They question how I’ve done it and what made me believe that I had the power to do something substantial for the autistic and ADHD community.”
But done it she has. Perhaps inspired by her elder brother, who founded his own nonprofit for repurposing tennis balls (Project Green Ball), or in recognition of family members who had been affected by autism, Soloway was encouraged to found SquashCares. Helped by her fellow Dana Hall students for sew-ins, Soloway knows when to reach out for guidance, and how to lead on her own. (The logo for SquashCares was independently designed by Soloway.)
In celebration of Global Youth Services Day on April 18, SquashCares organized seventy-six volunteers to help sew blankets (a goal of eight, which was achieved) with nearly 1,700 donated squash balls. The blankets—appropriate for children in the 50 to 150 pound range—were delivered to Cardinal Cushing School, John Silber Early Learning Center, and individuals around the country. (One blanket even went on an international journey to Jordan.) SquashCares was able to achieve this inaugural “sew-in” with a generous sponsorship-grant from Disney Friends for Change, coupled with support from TOG Squash and the Dana Hall School.
With a two-pronged approach—sewing blankets and providing donated squash equipment to urban squash programs—SquashCares is able to provide assistance and support for communities with very specific needs.
“Our goal for next year is to collect 2,000 balls, and we estimate that we’ll make at least ten ball blankets, ranging from 100-300 balls for each,” Soloway said. “We plan on having two sewing events.”
That a nonprofit would be founded, and run, by a high school student should be no surprise. Soloway is not the first of her kind—many such nonprofit organizations have been founded by high school and college students alike—but Soloway represents one of the few that works within and for the squash community.
“For teens who want to start programs like SquashCares, it is important to remember you have a stake in the world and you are able to change things,” Soloway said. “It only takes one leader or strong individual to lead and make a positive impact on a community. Having a positive attitude about your ability to change things—no matter your age—helps you to succeed.”
As Soloway takes a break from her academic studies this summer, she’ll be working hard to coordinate more events and volunteers for SquashCares.