Through her tragedy and grief, Monica Hicks, along with her friend and partner Mitra Sushinsky, founded Dink for a Cause, a non-profit organization located in Southern California dedicated to raising funds and awareness for worthwhile causes through the vehicle of pickleball tournaments. Their first tournament raised money for Be The Match, which helps connect patients with bone marrow donors. This organization was of particular importance to Hicks as her husband, through the help of Be The Match, received a stem cell transplant to treat his rare form of Leukemia, which gave him an extra 14 months of life prior to his passing.
As co-founders and executive directors, Hicks and Sushinsky seek to make an impact in their local community through their pickleball tournaments by partnering with local charities that are invested in the well-being of their community. The co-founders describe Dink for a Cause as “two moms at a kitchen table” but it is clear from the organization’s track record that they are making an impact on the pickleball community.
In 2022, Dink for a Cause hosted their inaugural Holiday Tournament, supporting 11 underprivileged families in their area and providing these families with Christmas presents for each member of the family. Both Hicks and Sushinsky were blown away by the support they received from their community which came out in full force to support this cause. In addition to the tournament proceeds going toward funding Christmas gifts for the families, they had Christmas ornaments with specific gift wishes from the families on them for tournament players and spectators to purchase. Hicks and Sushinsky couldn’t believe that all of the ornaments had sold out within the first two hours on the tournament day. Hicks described 2022’s Holiday Tournament as “oozing joy” as local businesses, such as the Paseo Club, which donated their pickleball courts for this tournament, partnered with Dink for a Cause to help this amazing tournament come to life.
While the 2022 Holiday Tournament was a great success, Hicks and Sushinsky noted several operations-related things they would be focusing on for the 2023 Holiday Tournament in order to improve the experience for all. Perhaps one of the biggest changes will be their use of software for scorekeeping rather than pen and paper as they did in 2022. They hope the implementation of software will decrease the human error often involved with manual scorekeeping. They stressed that because it is a charity tournament, players are often more gracious with scorekeeping mistakes. Nevertheless, Hicks and Sushinsky strive to ensure that the tournament is competitive and “want people to have a good experience” playing in the tournaments they host.
Additionally, the Dink for a Cause co-founders recently bought a hotspot to ensure a strong WiFi connection for the duration of the tournament, rather than rely on public WiFi sources. Their hope is having their own WiFi connection will improve the use of point-of-sale machines and any other devices requiring WiFi for the operations of the tournament.
When selecting a charity to partner with for their second Holiday Tournament, Hicks and Sushinsky knew they wanted to work with another local charity. One day while scrolling Instagram, Hicks came across an interview with the founder of The New Way, a non-profit operating in the Santa Clarita Valley in California, which works with the local homeless population. Hicks immediately knew that was the organization she wanted to work with for the 2023 Holiday Tournament so she reached out for a partnership.
Dink for a Cause uses a grassroots marketing strategy, primarily marketing through social media and word-of-mouth in the community. They are also grateful for the support of their host venue, the Paseo Club, for helping spread the word about their events via their newsletter. Their story has naturally attracted a variety of news outlets as well as charitable organizations far outside their local Southern California community seeking to partner with them.
Hicks and Sushinsky are hopeful this year’s tournament, which will be held November 18-19th at the Paseo Club in Valencia, California, will be twice as large as last year’s turnout and that they will be able to support 12-15 families in partnership with The New Way. Both Hicks and Sushinky are infinitely grateful for the support they have received from local businesses, community members, and other stakeholders as they continue to use pickleball as a vehicle to raise money and awareness for worthwhile causes.