The bulk of Mneimneh’s work has been through the Autism Awareness Club, which he founded at Palmer. He started the club because his brother, Tarek, has autism.
Tarek was diagnosed at six years old, but the family lived outside the U.S. where there were no real resources available for special needs children. So the family moved back to the U.S., where Waleed was born, in order to get help.
“We didn’t know initially,” he says. “My brother showed signs of things that don’t indicate autism. When he pointed at something, the doctor ruled out autism because it was a rare thing for autism kids to point. He’s a high functioning autistic kid.”
The brothers have a great relationship. Mneimneh says Tarek likes it when he’s around. “He doesn’t have close friends at school,” he says. “I’m kind of like his closest friend.”
The Autism Awareness Club hosts events to generate funds donated autism research. The club has hosted seven events so far. The largest event was the Ace for Autism Tennis Tournament, which raised $20,000. The tournament and silent auction were held at the Biltmore Tennis Center in Coral Gables. “Last year we had 70 players; this year 110,” Mneimneh says.
“Last year we raised $15,000 and this year around $20,000.”
Mneimneh says the Autism Club’s advisor used to host a tennis tournament called F.A.T., which stood for Food, Autism and Tennis. So when the club formed, the members decided to revive the tournament under a new name, Ace for Autism. The money raised goes to the University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD).
“They’re very big in the community in helping families with autism,” Mneimneh says.
The event is held at the Biltmore Tennis Center because Mneimneh plays tennis there daily. He plays on the Palmer Tennis Team, which had a very good year, going all the way to the regional semifinals. Mneimneh made it to the regional finals, too, before losing. “We’re still a very young team,” he says.
“We were all sophomore and freshmen. Next season we should be much, much better.”
Mneimneh has been playing tennis since he was eight years old. He also plays in tournaments outside of school and although he hasn’t won yet, he is steadily working his way up, making it to the semifinals or finals. He is also working his way up in the rankings. His highest rank was number 20 in the state in the 14-and-under division. He has moved up to the 16-and-under division and he is ranked number 50.
“Fifty at (age) 15 is pretty good,” he says. “That’s probably the best I’ve been in any age division.”
When he lived in Lebanon, Mneimneh didn’t play tennis competitively as much as he does here.
“Tennis wasn’t a priority there as it is here,” he says. “It was all about the education.”
His goal is to play tennis in college and then play on the professional tour. In recent years, tennis players are opting to go to college before moving on to the pro tour.
Mneimneh says he is considering several colleges to attend, including Duke, Stanford and Princeton, because they are very good academically and have excellent tennis programs. He is also looking at finance or business as a major course of study.
By Linda Bernfeld Rodriguez