Lapsed Registration Bounces Nonprofit Group From SE Tennis, Learning Center

Parents at the Southeast Tennis Center speak out in support of former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry the day after the city served the founder of the facililty an eviction notice. Video by Hamil Harris/The Washington Post
By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 14, 2009

The organization run by former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry that helped launch the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center received an eviction notice from the District government Thursday because its corporate registration was revoked.

City officials said the Recreation Wish List Committee had allowed its corporate registration to lapse and therefore could no longer be the District's partner.

Barry stood on the tennis courts Thursday and cried at the thought of no longer being involved with the site. "This has been my life's work," she said. "This program is my heart."

The Tennis and Learning Center, on Mississippi Avenue in Congress Heights, is one of the city's premier recreation facilities and is primarily funded and operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Since opening in 2001, it has served thousands of youths and has often hosted tennis champs Serena and Venus Williams, who are friends of Barry's.

Peter Nickles, the city's attorney general, said the city had no choice but to evict Barry's organization because its registration had been revoked.

Nickles said the city discovered the discrepancy a week ago in random checks of nonprofit organizations that do business with the city. "Legally, it was not possible for them to enter into a lease agreement with the city," Nickles said.

But the attorney for Wish List, A. Scott Bolden, said Thursday, "Given the performance of the organization and all that it gives back to the city, and has for the last 10 years, if there was any problem, the appropriate response from the government is to give the organization an opportunity to cure whatever defect they may have uncovered, and this was not done."

The group has 30 days to vacate the tennis center.

Founded in 1995, Wish List spearheaded the effort to build the facility, which features a library, classrooms and computer lab with 17 stations. Wish List staffs several programs at the facility and has donated $1.5 million to the facility since 2001, Barry said Thursday.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who was in Southeast to dedicate a basketball court at Barry Farm, said he didn't know why Barry's group was being evicted. "I understand that it is a technical issue," he said.

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who was with Fenty at the basketball event, praised his estranged wife's work. "She has worked her butt off," he said. "I don't know what happened, but I am sure it can be worked out."

Parents picking up their children at the Tennis and Learning Center praised the staff and program. "I think that is an awesome program," said Andrea Wright, who was getting her 10-year-old granddaughter. "They do great things with these children beyond tennis -- they learn writing skills, computer classes as well as arts and crafts."

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