Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

PingPong.GIVES Charity Foundation Story


Cross-train your brain: ping pong is therapy!

by Angela Slevin

Ken Lees is the founder of PingPong.GIVES Charity Foundation

Ken Lees is the founder of PingPong.GIVES Charity Foundation

A little boy enthusiastically cheers from the crowd at a ping pong tournament. “Go, Dad!” he shouts as his father scores point after point with his diminutive wooden paddle. This is how it all started for Ken Lees; he’s been playing ping pong with his dad since he was five years old. Ken is the founder of PingPong.GIVES Charity Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit foundation based in Virginia Beach. The organization uses the sport’s brain training benefits to help people with intellectual disabilities and brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Ken grew up in Onancock on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. His father, Larry Lees, was an avid amateur ping pong player. Larry traveled up and down the east coast to Maryland and Pennsylvania, playing in many tournaments and winning trophies. Ken happily accompanied him, learning good sportsmanship, feeling the thrill of victory and becoming a competitive player himself. He and his dad formed a very special bond.

Ken is a graduate of Broadwater Academy, and earned his Bachelor’s of Business Administration at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina. In 1985, a job opportunity brought Ken to Virginia Beach. He got his start in marketing with the Virginian Pilot, where he worked for 10 years.  Then, hopping the corporate fence of Landmark and Cox, he helped launch Autotrader.com with a group of eight colleagues. Today, Ken is the owner and operator of AdImpact.Marketing, providing fractional chief marketing officer and media agency services to business clients.

One day, someone asked Ken an important question – what was he doing professionally to give back? Ken was already serving on the board of directors for People in Need (PiN), a local organization that helps the homeless, but he realized he could do more. With all the golfing, running and walking for charity, why not ping pong for charity?

In 2008, Ken organized PingPong for Poverty to raise funds for PiN. The outreach group is built on a Christ-centered foundation and on their Four Pillars: Housing, Recovery, Medical Help and Job Training. Sixty five people registered to play in the tournament that first year, and a sizable donation was raised. 

At about the same time, clinical studies in Japan reported the amazing effect on the brain when playing ping pong. The sport activates multiple regions of the brain and increases cerebral blood flow, improving agility, alertness and overall mood. From a sample of 3,000 elderly table tennis players, tests measuring reasoning skills, communication and memory showed that after only two minutes of play the frontal lobe function had increased.

A different sample of 113 patients with brain diseases and dementia showed physical, mental and emotional improvement after 10 months of being on a ping pong based rehabilitation program. The number of patients dependent on wheelchairs dropped from 42 to 15. Those able to walk without any assistance rose from 40 to 66. The number of patients suffering from acute depression was cut in half. More than 70 patients had their dementia rating downgraded after the study period, with 25 of them testing normal when their ping pong regimen was completed. This proved that ping pong is not just a game – it’s therapy!

Dr. Scott Sautter  of  Hampton Roads Neuropsychology helped Ken spread the word that these benefits could help people suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and improve the quality of life of those with mild to medium intellectual disabilities. This led Ken to support groups such as Alzheimers of Southeastern Virginia, the American Parkinson Disease Association, Vanguard Landing, EVMS, the Glennan Center, PiN Ministry and to change the organization’s name to PingPong.GIVES Charity Foundation.

113 patients with brain diseases
and dementia showed physical, mental
and emotional improvement
after 10 months on a ping pong based
rehabilitation program.

From this was born their mission to integrate youth and seniors exclusively. This was accomplished by donating equipment to help schools build ping pong clubs – high schools like Thalia, Kellam, Ocean Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay Academy (a school for the intellectually challenged) – and then teaming them up with retirement communities such as Westminster-Canterbury, Atlantic Shores, Brookdale of Williamsburg and First Colonial Inn. Everyone thrived with their newfound friendships, and the retirement communities even started playing each other.

Dick Binford, a resident at Westminster Canterbury and member of the WC Pongers, says, “Ping pong is undoubtedly one of the best, most beneficial activities to take hold at Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay. The play itself is great fun, of course, but the sport offers so much more. It is both physically and mentally demanding, and it offers opportunities to meet and socialize with fellow residents and those of other communities. We also have a relationship with two elementary schools - we provide coaching and lessons in good sportsmanship to our ‘adopted grandchildren’ – truly a joy for the children and us.”

Ken couldn’t agree more. “We’ve been so fortunate to see fundraising success year after year,” Ken smiles. “And since this is our 10th anniversary, there’s something very unique planned: five celebrities, three days of events, two killer celebrity parties and one huge tournament!”

On September 20 from 6 – 9 p.m. a 10th Anniversary Celebrity/VIP Welcome Party will be held at Chevy’s on Nevan Road in Virginia Beach. Five special sports professionals will be there - Kenny Dennard and Christian Laettner, both Duke/NBA Standouts, Adoni Maropis, US Open Tennis Table Champion and actor playing the villain, Fayed, in the hit series “24” with Kiefer Sutherland, Dean Johnson, Table Tennis Hall of Famer, US Nationals Finalist and author, and Ioanna Papadimitriou, a former Miss Greece, Greek National Champion and supermodel. Those attending the party can meet them, mingle, play, get autographs and photos, and enjoy food and drinks for an evening.

On September 21 at the Virginia Beach Field House from 7 - 11 p.m. the PingPongforCHARITY™ Celebrity SlamFEST will take place, with live music by local favorite, the Hotcakes.

Tickets are available separately for each event, but special pricing has been developed for dual event tickets.

Finally, on September 22 at 8 a.m. the PingPongforCHARITY™ Tournament will be at the Virginia Beach Fieldhouse, with dozens of tables (donated by local business Kettler) just waiting for players to arrive. Please go online for more information and to register.

Ken’s dad is now 80 years old, and he still plays. In fact, he manages the Onancock Table Tennis Club at Onancock High School. There is a waiting list to get in – makes sense, since it’s the third fastest growing sport in the US.

Ken and his wife, Laurie, have been married for 27 wonderful years. Their daughter, Madison, and son, Parker, spent the summer at home raiding their parents’ refrigerator, and have now  returned to Virginia Tech for the fall semester. “When they were little, I used to start them off with some ping pong before school so they’d be alert,” Ken reminisces wistfully. Not to worry - they’ll be back for the tournament.

September 20
10th Anniversary Celebrity/VIP Welcome Party

September 21
PingPongforCHARITY™ Celebrity SlamFEST

September 22
PingPongforCHARITY™ Tournament

Ping Pong for CHARITY