Monica Aguilar-Hicks and Mitra Sushinksy were both pickleball players at the Paseo Club. Their paths crossed one day in a pickleball match shortly after the pandemic. Aguilar-Hicks was astonished and scared by Sushinksy’s skills.
“She was really good and I was like, ‘I don’t want to play against her, but I want to play with her,’” said Aguilar-Hicks. She was talking about pickleball in that moment, but that statement was the start of their friendship and their nonprofit, Dink for Cause.
Dink for Cause was cofounded by Aguilar-Hicks and Sushinksky as a way to raise money and awareness for various causes through hosting pickleball events and tournaments.
In July 2017, Aguilar-Hicks’ husband Leo was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive form of the cancer. The doctors stated that his only chance of survival would be through a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. Leo received the transplant and said that after he beat AML, he wanted to do everything he could to pay it forward to Be the Match, the registry that gave him his one chance.
After 14 months of fighting, Leo died of cancer.
Be the Match gave Aguilar-Hicks one more birthday, one more Christmas, one more wedding anniversary with her husband. Aguilar-Hicks wanted to pay the generosity forward.
“I knew I wanted to do something, but I just didn’t know what or when or how,” said Aguilar-Hicks.
That is when that one fateful pickleball game occurred.
Aguilar-Hicks and Sushinksy worked together to form their nonprofit Dink for Cause because, “if we’re gonna do this, let’s do this, let’s start a nonprofit,” said Aguilar-Hicks.
On Saturday, Dink for Cause hosted its inaugural holiday benefit tournament at the Paseo Club, which donated the courts for the tournament. Working with the school system, 11 local families were chosen to receive a little extra help for the holiday season.
Items from each of the families’ wish lists were attached to a wiffle ball and placed on a Christmas tree. Throughout the nine-hour tournament, players and supporters were able to personally pick an item off of the tree and purchase it for the family. Additionally, a raffle and all other proceeds were donated toward the cause.
The one motivator for the two, throughout the three-month process of working on the event – a sparkly dress, the special item on one girl’s wish list.
“I was up until midnight, but it is worth it,” said Sushinsky. “I kept thinking, ‘Sparkly dress, sparkly dress.’”
Participant Christine Albert was raised in Santa Clarita and seeing a tournament for one of her passions, for her community, was something she wanted to be a part of.
“I love playing pickleball, but when you can go and play with new people and you know that your time spent and your donation is going to a good cause, that’s always a benefit,” said Albert.
What started with two women, Dink for Cause saw 90 people rally behind them at the tournament.
“We say this all the time, on our own, we never would have done this because the fear was overwhelming, but together we gave each other the courage to absolutely be able to move forward and to do it,” said Aguilar-Hicks. “She’s my pickleball partner and she’s my nonprofit partner, but she’s a sister.”