Max Fesenmaier was cleaning out his closet last year when he discovered an abundance of leftover tennis balls from his junior season on the varsity tennis team at Sartell High School.
“I just really didn’t want them going in the trash,” said Fesenmaier, 18, who departs for Marine training in September.
So he asked his mother, Laura, what could be done with them.
She immediately thought about the senior population she assists every day as a staff member at Guardian Pharmacy of Minnesota, a long-term care pharmacy serving assisted living centers and skilled nursing facilities.
Might they have a use for the balls?
Laura contacted her boss, Guardian president Mark Boe, who sent out an e-mail to the nearly 300 facilities Guardian serves. Was he ever surprised by the response.
“The e-mails just started flying in,” Boe said. “People were like, ‘Give me 10,’ ‘Give me 20,’ ‘Give me 30.’ Then, they were gone like that,” Boe said, snapping his fingers. “I said, ‘Holy cow, well, let’s see if we can get some more.’ ”
Today, thanks to Max and Laura, more than 4,000 tennis balls have been collected and about 2,500 have been given away. That means 60 long-term care communities under the Guardian wing can offer walkers retrofitted with tennis balls to help their residents move around with ease.
“We greatly appreciate the donation of tennis balls,” said Sara McCormick, a health care worker with Aitkin, Minn.-based Aicota Health Care Center. “It takes our operating costs down because we don’t have to purchase tennis balls for that use.”
Using the tennis balls on walkers’ feet to help seniors slide across the floor might seem like a small thing, she said. But it makes a huge difference.
“We have residents that walk independently and they put on miles a day,” McCormick said. “It brings our residents enjoyment to be mobile with their walkers.”
Karen Hennesy, housing manager at Arlington Place, an assisted living community in St. Joseph, Minn., agreed that receiving the tennis ball donations takes a financial burden off a lot of seniors and their families.
“My husband is disabled, so when it comes out of our pockets, it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s one more thing to add,’ ” she said.
“So, families are really gracious when we say we can provide more than enough [tennis balls], and they don’t have to pay for anything.”
The Arlington Place facility occasionally uses the tennis balls as part of its exercise program, Hennesy said.
“We have exercises in the morning where they do stretches, so sometimes we will have them squeeze the balls because it’s good for their hands.”
The Fesenmaiers began their effort to collect tennis balls by handing out fliers at tennis matches, calling high schools and colleges in the area, and scavenging storage bins filled with used tennis balls at school. They solicited donations from local businesses and organizations. Soon, tennis balls rolled in to assisted living communities throughout central Minnesota, some as far as 2½ hours away. While the seniors aren’t necessarily aware of the story behind the tennis ball donations, McCormick said the initiative is greatly welcomed and could easily be duplicated.
“It’s an excellent way for tennis programs to give back to the community in ways that not everyone thinks of,” McCormick said.
Fesenmaier said he’s glad his initiative is taking off and helping his community.
“I never imagined my discovery of old tennis balls would have such a positive impact on so many seniors,” he said. “It makes me feel good.”