by emma trotter | October 11, 2011 | People
Agassi and students during an awards ceremony at Agassi Prep
|Andre Agassi, hometown heroe with a lot to smile about|
|Andre Agassi with children at the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy|
October is always a busy month for hometown hero Andre Agassi, but this year, he’s upping the ante. Before his over-the-top Grand Slam for Children gala on October 29, he’s going to do something on his stomping ground that you don’t often see anymore: play competitive tennis.
Since last month, Agassi has been on the Champion Series Tennis tour, hitting Thomas & Mack Center October 15 with Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and John McEnroe. At the conclusion of the 12-city tour, the top three finishers will share a $1 million prize pool.
Just two weeks later, Agassi and wife Stefanie Graf will put on their black-tie best for his star-studded 16th annual Grand Slam for Children, again held this year at Wynn Las Vegas, which promises some surprises this time around. “This year at our Grand Slam, we will be making an announcement,” Agassi says. “It’s something that we have been working toward for well over a decade. It’s going to be significant; I would even use the word ‘historic.’ I think, moving forward, this will be the event most remembered and talked about of any year.”
The gala raises a majority of the funding for the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education—more than $92 million since its inception in 1994.
“In our early years, our mission was broader, but maybe less deep,” he says. “We fed the hungry and built shelters and Boys and Girls Clubs. We tried to ease people’s suffering on many levels. As we evolved, it became clear that our mission was to reach the next generation through systemic education reform. We built Agassi Prep, and expanded by two grade levels per year. We’ve now graduated our third class of seniors and have touched thousands of lives.”
The thriving, tuition-free Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy charter school opened in 2001 with a goal of providing at-risk youth with a challenging, quality education. Agassi says he wants it to be a beacon and model that other states follow.
Agassi’s dedication to Nevada is homegrown: He was raised right here in Las Vegas, and he and Graf have made it their home base. “Las Vegas is a one-of-a-kind place, a city built in the middle of the desert that still has a ‘can do’ attitude to this day,” he says. “The positive attitude of its people really contributes to our lives. Now, we are fortunate enough to have most of the Agassi and Graf clans right here in Las Vegas. I’m happy to be able to raise my children with these people and experiences.
Agassi in action
“As we travel the world, we try to be unofficial ambassadors of Las Vegas by talking to people about the diversity, culture and opportunities here,” Agassi continues. “We want people to see past the lights and the noise, and see a fabric of caring and giving people.”
The Agassi Foundation, he says, would be unrecognizable without local supporters like Steve Wynn, Elaine Wynn, Larry Ruvo, the Engelstad family and Kirk Kerkorian and the Lincy Foundation. “This town has produced a lot of wealth and success for many of its people, but I have never found another place in the world that rivals the gratefulness and generosity of my hometown.”
Expanding the Mission
In addition to lobbying to attract charter operations to consider Las Vegas as a much-needed epicenter of education reform, Agassi has partnered with Canyon Capital to boost support and investments for the charter school system nationwide.
“We’re tapping traditional capital to invest in building new purpose-built schools across America,” Agassi says. “We will then give these great charter operators a path to an affordable, green facility with low-interest financing. The investors will receive a modest return, while making a sea change in education. Our initial work has attracted about $500 million in private capital and will impact about 40,000 inner-city children.”
Graf, too, runs a foundation that focuses on children in need. From their home in Las Vegas, she helms Children for Tomorrow, which she founded in 1998 to provide assistance for mentally and emotionally damaged refugee children and families who have suffered because of war. This year, the organization opened a Hamburg, Germany-based headquarters and trauma center. “During a tournament in Hamburg 14 years ago, I met a group of doctors who treat children traumatized by war, violence and persecution,” she says. “The conversations with the doctors made me realize how much work was needed.” Over the years, the group has developed projects in Mozambique Eritrea, Kosovo and Uganda and has provided therapy for thousands of children.
Agassi and Graf have done so much for Las Vegas, it will be quite a treat for locals to see Agassi, an icon from their own backyard, back out on the courts at the much-anticipated Champions Series event. “I enjoy the tour because I’m getting to reunite with friends, and fans, old and new. Tennis gave me my life and my wife, so it’s a privilege for me to connect with it again.”
photographs by jeff gale (agassi prep); jeff golden/getty images (tennis); jeff green (graf); jared mcmillen (agassi portrait); denise truscello/wireimage.com (students)