For the third time, 8-year-old Emily Chanthavisay ran to the corner of the tennis court to throw the ball over the fence and into the inaccessible bushes. But 14-year-old Emma Peplow anticipated and intercepted the move just in time.
With the same expression of patience and understanding she displayed for the past hour, the Newport Harbor High School freshman guided the young child back to the center of the court and continued the lesson of hitting the ball over the net.
Emma coordinates her tennis lessons for Down syndrome children through the Down Syndrome Assn. of Orange County. This was just another day on the courts with her students. The lessons were her idea and her solo project.
It is unusual for volunteers to come to the association with an idea for a new program and then run it themselves, according the association's director of community relations, Kellie Perez.
But the concept wasn't unusual to Emma.
She was inspired by her older sister, Paige Peplow, who started dance classes for Down syndrome children two years ago when she was 14.
Perez said when she first met Paige she was impressed with the idea of dance classes she pitched, but was also slightly skeptical.
"I thought, 'Let's see how long this lasts,'" Perez said.
It's been two years, and Paige said she is planning to continue them until she graduates. She said she plans to open her own studio one day and continue to teach dance.
"The parents tell me the girls practice at home. 'They can't stop dancing and twirling around.' That's really the best part," Paige said.
Both Paige and Emma are earning community service hours required to graduate from Newport-Mesa Unified schools. But both viewed the requirement as an opportunity.
"I wanted to do something that was important to me and to other people," Paige said.
The idea of focusing on children with Down syndrome was sparked while spending time with a family friend, Lauren.
When Paige spent time with Lauren, she naturally shared her love of dancing.
"I saw how much she loved dancing, and I thought it would be so fun to teach them," Paige said.
Lauren's parents connected Paige with the Down Syndrome Assn. She set up classes at Endeavor School of the Arts in Costa Mesa, where she studies.
"I was so nervous," she said. "I had never taught little kids before. I was scared I wouldn't be able to take control."
And she couldn't.
"Before the first class, I made a plan, picked songs and exercises. I expected them to understand so quickly," she said. "It's definitely harder than you think."
She said she had to go back and reevaluate to figure out where to start.