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A helping hand: Key resident, athlete, business owner puts giving back first

Photo courtesy Julian Wortelboer

Key Biscayne’s Julian Wortelboer aims to use his resources and energy to empower people all over the world through education.

If helping other people was a sport, Julian Wortelboer would be a Grand Slam winner.

The former world­class athlete turned Ocean Club director of tennis turned The Court Sports Gear business partner has made his most important mark in the game of life, making sure others have the skill sets needed for a chance to win at whatever endeavor they chose.

Now, the Buenos Aires native, who came to the land of opportunity on a tennis scholarship 30 years ago, is using his life experience and compassion for people to continue providing for underserved individuals all over the world through his First Serve Foundation. Since he retired from competitive tennis and began putting a heavy focus on philanthropy, the Key Biscayne resident has provided an array of education­ based services to people in Argentina, Australia, Zimbabwe, Haiti and now Nicaragua. Wortelboer’s First Serve initiative is making a big holiday push to raise $16,000 to provide portable computers for every student at the Salinas Grandes school he supports in the tiny fishing village of Salinas Grandes, Nicaragua.

“I want to empower kids through education,” the renaissance man said. “That’s my philosophy.

"I take on different projects and I start and I finish the project with relationships to education. The latest is Salinas Grandes in Nicaragua. It’s a very small fishing village that I found out about through the concierge at the building where I live. He is from there and he said they needed help at the school there. They needed bathrooms and books, and in the first project we built bathrooms and got money for chairs and tables and blackboards and built a cafeteria for them. “Before, they were eating under a tree then it rains,” he said. Wortelboer said he tries to use his resources to work with other foundations doing similar things. “We teamed up with the One Laptop Per Child Foundation to provide state­of­the­art mini computers that are loaded with multilingual educational software and are built to withstand tough conditions. The total cost is $33,000, but the One Laptop Per Child Foundation agreed to pay half of the expenses,” he said. “I just keep asking, ‘What do the kids need?’” Right now, First Serve has started collecting donations in a variety of ways, including a fundraising website at, donation boxes at Court Sports Gear locations, word­of­mouth and some upcoming fundraising events that are still in development.

Marco Lazo is the Commodore Club South concierge from Nicaragua who inspired Wortelboer to help. He was surprised how quickly the tennis director went into action.

“He is an action man,” Lazo said, eagerly expressing his assessment of Wortelboer and his foundation. “You can count on him that he is going to do his job. He uses his assets and organization to get things done – and fast. “I am impressed with him because for me he is a natural, strong, serious leader for justice and humanitarian concepts,” he said. “He is still young enough to have the physical strength and correct vision to always move forward to make a vision happen and to help people.” Lazo is not only impressed with Wortelboer’s ability to raise money and access resources, he is impressed with the intangibles as well.

“I think he has the courage, because in this type of work you have to have courage to leave behind the easy way of life here and the conveniences and security, etc. and go to a total different reality where you hardly know somebody and you find deep poverty and tough life conditions. Sometimes I ask myself why Julian does this – I think he enjoys bringing people needed goods and donations that will provide them with what they need for at least a while. “But besides that, I think he brings hope – that their reality can be changed for the better.” The 49­year­old humanitarian said he developed his penchant for helping people by simply taking notice of the world around him. In 1987 he left Argentina to pursue college athletics at the University of Massachusetts. Following graduation with a bachelor’s degree in geology and earth science, his pro career required that he travel constantly, trying to earn enough money to keep playing wherever he needed to continue chasing his dream.

“For almost 20 years I’ve been traveling the world,” he said, explaining how his tennis career gave him exposure. “I wasn’t the best, I was in­between, like a second division pro, so you do what you need to do to keep playing. I was in Africa, Australia and Europe. When you start traveling you get outside of your bubble. Basically, it was the experience to travel around the world and see the need to help people. I’m seeing the poverty and the struggle that people have on every continent, and that’s what made me want to help people. “When I was working in Africa and staying there, I said, ‘Wow,’ I feel so lucky. They have nothing; they have mud huts and live on nothing. When I got back to my comfort level I said, ‘What can I do to give back to the world?’”

Wortelboer’s positive approach to life and helping people has paid off for many. His energetic can­do attitude and ability to identify needs and create solutions have indeed been beneficial.

He even helped organize and continues to support an orphanage in Haiti. Once he visited Nicaragua, he immediately made observations and saw how a little information and inspiration could possibly create more options for kids whose futures were limited at best. “The closest town is 17 miles away, and the kids in the village have never even been in that town,” he said. “By the age of 12 most kids are taken from school by their parents to join the fishing business or the salt mines. It’s heartbreaking. I try to teach the kids and empower them.”

Education, Wortelboer believes, is the key to everything, and he wants to enlist the help of people in Key Biscayne to provide as much support as possible. “These kids need education in every sense of the word: health education, dental education. The overweight epidemic is there too because flour is the cheapest thing and they overdo carbohydrates, the breads and rice, because they don’t know how to eat. I want to take my dentist from Key Biscayne to teach them how to take care of their teeth.”

In the meantime, Wortelboer continues to impact people at the Ocean Club, on the Key, and in and around Miami through the multitude of tennis and community projects he is determined to keep growing.

He is a big proponent of using all the marketing tools available to the masses to make sure his message is available to others. He has a host of videos on a variety of platforms, from YouTube to Viemo to Vine, in addition to posting updates on social media like Twitter. Wortelboer is living a purpose­driven life, encouraging others to do the same while maximizing their own potential. He is a firm believer that people can impact their own lives and others if they try: “I’ve been doing this since 2009, helping the world has been my mission from day one.”

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