Claire Alford Impacts a Community

For some, golf may be just a game. For us, it’s an avenue in which kids and teens discover the confidence and inner strength inside of them and learn to bring that to everything they do. One of the ways we cultivate this, is by encouraging youth to understand the value and importance of helping those around them. In your community, within your family or school, the world is in need of game changers who will show up for others. Claire Alford, from First Tee – Central Coast, is a game changer who, with the help of her school club, started the first Community and Health Resources Fair.  “Our goal was to provide vital health resources to the students at our school. My family is part of Santa Maria’s 74% Hispanic population, as counted by the US Census Bureau. At school I see how most of my peers rely on the federal free lunch program to get meals every day. By founding the Culture Community and Cuisine Club and creating the health fair, my brother and I helped bring health screenings and support to our peers.” She could tell you that this is no small feat. Claire and her brother attended daily meetings and phone calls with school administrators and the community providers to ensure the event was a success. Due to the diverse population in the community, students struggle with a variety of issues that are often ignored. Community partners were present at the event to establish a safe environment for all students at the school.  “The most rewarding part of the day was seeing my classmates connect with services they needed. My life goal is to expand access to basic health evaluations and treatment to other rural towns in the same way that the First Tee has spread access to the life changing game of golf.” We are proud of kids and teens, like Claire, that selflessly give their time to care for those around them and exemplify the values taught at First Tee. We can’t wait to see how she continues to work towards her goals in the future.

Thank you for making our educational programs your beneficiary!

Our team is so grateful to those who organize events and choose our educational programs as their beneficiary! We absolutely love to promote, participate and volunteer within our community.  In March, Harbor Exchange hosted their annual Cornhole tournament in Safety Harbor. In early April, he Dunedin Kiwanis hosted their inaugural golf tournament at Chi Chi’s Golf Club and the Pinellas County Office of Technology and Innovation put on their bi-annual tournament, an event we have been part of for 5 years! Thank you to all of these community groups for hosting such amazing events! Know of someone who needs a beneficiary for an event? Contact Laura Tobe at [email protected] for more info.  

Quick 9: Showing up for Others

Emma Laker, First Tee — Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky

1. What does “showing up for others” mean to you?

Showing up for others means that you are there for someone when they need you. You show kindness by helping others and not just thinking of yourself. You give people the respect they deserve.

2. How do you show up for your friends?

I show up for my friends by being there when they need me. One of my friends lost her mom and just by being there made her feel better and that everything was going to be okay.

3. How do you show up for your family?

I show up for my family by helping out around the house and making it easier on my parents. I realize how hard they work so that we can go to a Catholic school. I show them how thankful I am by trying hard with my schoolwork and doing my best I can.

4. How do you show up for your community?

I show up for my community by serving at my church and helping at my school. I helped at the After School Program by helping kids with their homework. I also volunteer at the Brighton Center around Christmas time by donating to families in need.

5. How do you feel after helping others?

I feel amazing. I realize how extremely lucky and blessed I am to have all of the love and  support  of my family and friends. When I am  helping others I feel like I am giving them some of my joy and happiness.

6. How do you mentally prepare to show up for your role (coach, student, parents etc)?

I show up for my role by being confident. I make sure that I have practiced as much as possible. I always make sure that I persevere and keep going no matter what. Whether good or bad I’ve tried my best and that’s all I can do.

7. What impact has it made on your life when someone has been there for you?

It shows me that I am surrounded by friends and family that love me no matter what. I can look up to my friends and family to help me through the rough times.

8. What does it feel like when someone is there for you?

It feels like I am loved. I have people who I can count on. It feels really good to have people in my life who can be there for me.

9. What have you learned through First Tee about showing up for others?

I  have learned  to  use the  core values. I have learned to  respect  others and my surroundings. I have also learned to  use responsibility while  on  the golf course. Using the Core Values allows us to show up for others.

Coach Ron Castillo, First Tee – North Florida

Golf is a fun and challenging platform for growth, helping kids and teens build the confidence to show up to a challenge, the resilience to keep going when they fail, and the inner strength to do the right thing, even with it’s the hard thing. For today’s youth, First Tee provides mentors who help them write their personal growth story. Ron Castillo, First Tee – North Florida Program Director since 2017, has been a part of First Tee since 2001. “I moved back to Atlanta after working as an assistant golf professional in Hilton Head, SC. I called one of my professional mentors and told him I was looking for a job. His reply was, “yes, I’ll always have a job for you. Come by tomorrow.” I have been involved with First Tee ever since. Speaks volumes to having a Go-To Team!” For twenty years he’s been a coach, a mentor and a friend. He can tell you stories about numerous participants and families he’s gotten to know and how their kids have grown to be college graduates, doctors, entrepreneurs, husbands, wives, parents, and yes, professional golfers.  When he joined First Tee, he was ready for the next stage in his career. He stays for something much more personal. “Simply put, I stay because I absolutely love what I do. Being a coach at First Tee has helped me be a better husband and father. I find myself thinking about First Tee lessons when advising my son and making decisions for my household.” Coach Ron shares with us why golf is the perfect sport for learning lifelong skills and fostering personal growth.

Commonly Asked Questions about First Tee

First Tee builds experiences that build character. As a youth development organization, we believe experiences are our greatest teacher and that they should be both fun and meaningful, where kids feel excited to grow, safe to fail and better equipped for whatever comes their way. Whether you are looking to join our program or still considering your options, here are commonly asked questions to get you started.

How do you build character through golf?

We see golf as a metaphor for life. It’s not the score that counts, but what you learn along the way. Like in life, golf requires goal setting, working with others and digging deep when things get tough (perseverance). Golf is a perfect practice ground for learning skills that go far beyond the fairways.

What if my child has never picked up a golf club before?

We know it can feel intimidating to start something new. Everyone was a beginner once and our coaches are trained in creating a supportive environment to make kids feel comfortable and assure they have fun while learning about themselves and golf.

Do I need to provide golf equipment for kids?

Chapters provide access to all the equipment you will need. No need for special golf attire.

Will my child be participating in a safe environment?

First Tee and its chapters are committed to having a safe and welcoming environment for everyone involved in the organization. As part of our commitment, all employees, coaches and volunteers must complete a background check before working with our youth. Plus, all employees, coaches, volunteers, and board members are required to complete the U.S. Center for SafeSport training program.

Is there competition and physical activity?

Absolutely! First Tee is an activity-based program, so our lessons include movement that can range from games to walking/playing the course. As participants get older, they have the chance to compete at national events held across the country.

Is there a chapter near me?

We’re closer than you think. First Tee offers programs in all 50 states through First Tee chapters, School Programs, and after-school Community Programs. We also offer programs in a number of international locations.

What if I have financial concerns?

No worries—chapters offer full scholarships or reduced fee programming for those who need it.

Parents’ Guide

Flip through our parents’ guide to learn more about our wide ranging opportunities for kids and teens.

Get Involved

First Tee provides active learning experiences for youth that help build their inner strength, self-confidence and resilience. Find a chapter today!

Quick 9 – Bretton M.

Personal Growth Through Golf

Bretton M. from First Tee – Central Florida

1. How does golf relate to life?

Golf relates to life because life isn’t always easy and neither is golf. So it teaches you to always persevere even when times are tough.

2. How does golf challenge you to be a better person?

Golf challenges me to be a better person because I want to be well respected and to be known as a good person so I always want to be the best I can be.

3. What is your favorite part about playing golf?

My favorite part about playing golf is all of the wonderful opportunities in life you can have from the game.

4. What golf skills helps you the most off the course?

Golf has really helped my confidence level and that is something that is important in life so I am very happy to have gained that skill.

5. How can golf make you a more rounded individual?

Golf can help you be a more rounded individual because you have to show respect to the course, your peers and yourself so that right there makes you a better person to have those skills.

6. How are you inspired through golf?

I have really been inspired by Arnold Palmer and his positive impacts on the community and his amazing golf success.

7. How have you grown up over the past year?

I have grown this year in many ways. I have been able to drastically improve my golf game physically and mentally. I have also become stronger and tougher and much better at controlling my emotions which has helped on the course and in life.

8. What or who motivates you?

My Grampa is the person who motivates me because he is the strongest person I know and he makes me want to push harder every day!

9. What is your personal growth goal?

A personal growth goal for me would be to have a consistent workout routine.

Mentzel Proves Heart, Golf Are All You Need to Impact Others

By Sara Wright, PGA TOUR Henry Mentzel was just seven years old when he was first introduced to First Tee. His parents had been searching for some basic golf lessons for their son and stumbled across First Tee — Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Little did they know, this program would end up providing so much more. First Tee would be one of the most influential programs in young Henry’s life and would prove a catalyst for his personal growth throughout the years. “I have been active in multiple sports throughout my childhood,” Henry explained. “I played soccer, basketball, baseball, just trying to figure out which I enjoyed the most. First Tee introduced golf in a way that allowed me to learn how to play the game, but also taught me life skills that I was able to apply across many areas of my young life. In the end, golf is the sport I enjoy the most.” Henry is currently at the Eagle level, but it was during his time in the PAR level that he learned a valuable lesson on perseverance and how to succeed in golf by continuing through bad breaks and his own mistakes. This lesson also helped him in other aspects of his life. “I applied the perseverance lesson in school, specifically, in Latin,” he said. “I struggled to understand the different parts of Latin grammar and the new vocabulary.  My school required Latin, so I had to figure out how to persevere through three years of an unspoken language that did not make sense to me.  I made a lot of vocabulary lists, agreed to get a tutor, and started staying after school for help nights. After applying myself, despite some not so great grades on assignments, I started making progress and now, in my third year, I have an A in the class.” Not only do these lessons shape Henry’s life, but they have had a big part in shaping others’ lives, as well. Coached from early on by Tom and Melissa Briner, they not only helped him discover his love for the game of golf, but also gave Henry the opportunity to coach other young golfers at First Tee. “Being able to introduce my friend Will Abel to the game of golf was very meaningful to me,” Henry reflected. “First Tee has given Will the opportunity to begin to learn the game of golf and me the opportunity to teach and play with him.  I enjoy that we now both have another common interest that we enjoy doing together.” This friendship between Will and Henry was one of the reasons he was recently awarded with the 2020 Heart of First Tee Award. This award given by First Tee — Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky recognizes individuals who embody the “Heart” of the First Tee through giving of time, talent or treasure; by demonstrating and living one of First Tee values; or by going above and beyond to promote or further their missions. “We are all living in extraordinary and trying times that have tested all of us in ways we couldn’t even imagine nine months ago,” Rosie Abel wrote in her nomination of Henry. “Despite these challenges, Henry – acting upon the values of the First Tee – found a way to make a difference in our son’s life. My son, Will, who has Down Syndrome, is not unlike most sixteen-year-olds — very outgoing, social, and full of energy. But the pandemic has proven to be particularly frustrating for him especially when Ohio shut down in March. His sense of isolation grew as the effects of the pandemic spread.” “When First Tee classes resumed in the summer, Henry continued to be that go-to person for Will,” Rosie continued. “He supports Will at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati’s Buddy Walk and even invited Will to play a round of golf with him, knowing that Will was not as experienced as himself. Will is not the only recipient of Henry’s friendship. Many coaches and staff have witnessed his kindness and refreshing take on life, feeling joy in other’s successes. We suspect there are many other people who have been touched by Henry and consider him to be on their “go-to team.” Henry currently caddies, is a member of HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) and Books For Kids (a club where students write and illustrate a book imagined patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital) he also regularly volunteers with his family at a soup kitchen. During the summer, Henry volunteers in First Tee classes where he is a positive role model for the younger kids in the program. “The core values the First Tee teaches are very important for kids and teens today,” Henry continued. “I really believe these core values build kids to be better, stronger, and smarter on and off the golf course each day. First Tee also teaches kids social and mental skills on how to interact and bring out the best in themselves and their teammates.  First Tee teaches how to set specific goals and, more importantly, what it takes to achieve them. These essential skills help prepare kids for their future and provide tools for success.” As Henry prepares for his future, one of his immediate goals is to place in the top 10 in one of the golf tournaments he plans to compete in this summer. He is also striving to achieve the A honor role during his freshman year at Walnut Hills High School. His long terms goals are to play college golf and get into medical school. “First Tee has taught me that to achieve these goals I will need to be confident, honest, and persevere through challenges,” Henry added. “Through this program and the coaches who mentor me, I always feel that I can do whatever I set my mind to do.  It has helped me understand that a bad day on the course (or in school or in life, in general) is just that – one bad day.  Tomorrow is a fresh start.”

Congratulations to our own Coach Karen Wise, PGA!

In February, First Tee – Clearwater Program Director Karen Wise, PGA was honored with the 2021 Youth Player Development Award for the North Florida PGA!  This Award recognizes the PGA Professional who is a leader in junior golf and who reflects the ideals of those who work with youth. Coach Karen oversees all programming of First Tee – Clearwater, including the weekly programs at the Chi Chi Academy. Congrats Karen!  

Empowering Youth Through Golf

Golf is a metaphor for life – full of unexpected challenges, and how we choose to respond defines who we are. As the kids and teens in our programs know, success is not defined by how well we play the game.  It’s not about the score at the end of a round, or whether they won the tournament. It’s about the journey. What we learn along the way. And what we do with that learning makes all the difference. What makes First Tee different from other youth development organizations is how we do our work: through golf. By seamlessly integrating the game of golf with a life skills curriculum, we create active learning experiences that build inner strength, self-confidence, and resilience that kids can carry to everything they do While participating in First Tee, 82% of the youth in our programs felt more confident with their social skills and 73% reported feeling more confident in their academic ability. “I am grateful for the First Tee program and the impact it has had on my life. I have learned that golf is much more than a game, much more than just swinging a club, and carries with it life lessons that I will draw from for the rest of my life. The program has provided me with opportunities to play matches and tournaments that not only improved my game but provided lasting friendships with the golf families and coaches over the years. The program has provided me with a safe place to be a lifetime student of the game. There will always be something to learn, something to change, something to improve, (whether it’s a part of my golf game or a non-golf, real life situation) and First Tee ties them all together in a pretty bow, and helps me understand the connection.” – Emily Knox, First Tee — Tri Valley Experiences are our greatest teacher. We believe in developing the ones that are just as fun as they are meaningful, where kids feel excited to grow, safe to fail, and better equipped for whatever comes their way next. Our trained coaches create safe, supportive and empowering environments to help our participants prepare for life ahead, including friendships, school, college and even their careers. Whether a child’s goal is to be a lawyer, a teacher, an astrophysicist, a musician, or a professional golfer, kids become a better version of themselves when they have the space to be who they are, surrounded by passionate people who guide them to see what they are capable of. If anyone you know thinks that golf isn’t for them, invite them to try it the First Tee way.

Quick 9 for Personal Growth through Golf

By: Andrew Olivo, Age 16, First Tee – Central Florida

1. How does golf relate to life? ​

Golf relates to life as it teaches many important qualities such as respect, responsibility, and judgment. These characteristics help me to make the right decisions in life and place me on a path for success.

2. How does golf challenge you to be a better person?

​Golf challenges me to be a better person by placing me in situations to embrace the life lessons that I learn. For example, on the course, I have to always be honest with myself, even when nobody’s watching.

3. What is your favorite part about playing golf? ​

My favorite part about playing golf is spending time on the golf course with my dad. He is usually very busy with work so it’s nice to have some bonding time with him on the course to talk and play.

4. What golf skill helps you the most off the course? ​

Perseverance helps me the most off the course as it pushes me to do my best despite challenges or difficulties I may face in achieving my goals.

5. How can golf make you a more well-rounded individual? ​

Golf makes me a more well-rounded individual by teaching me a variety of skills and characteristics that I use in my day to day life. For example, golf helps to build my self confidence and practice respect towards adults and peers in my life.

6. How are you inspired through golf?

​I am inspired through golf to continue to improve as I play competitively in tournaments and on my high school team. In addition, as a junior assistant coach, it has inspired me to give back to my community and teach younger golfers the game of golf and important life lessons.

7. How have you grown up over the past year?

​Over the past year, I have learned to take on more responsibilities and leadership roles. For example, I am dedicating more time to junior coaching classes in First Tee. In school, I have become more active in clubs and organizations that I am a member of.

8. What or who motivates you? ​

My parents motivate me to work hard and try my best in golf and school. They teach me to always be a good person and lead by example.

9. What is your personal growth goal? ​

My personal growth goal is to keep working hard in school to be accepted in a highly rated university. In addition to developing my academics, I also want to continue focusing on maintaining my health and fitness through physical activity.

Kelvin Williams – Lessons in Leadership

At First Tee, we guide kids to strengthen what’s inside and put it into action because strong character, inner strength and resilience is needed now more than ever. This month we are talking to leaders within our Network about their experiences and key lessons learned over the course of their careers.

Kelvin Williams, Senior Vice President, Business Operations at First Tee Headquarters

What is your current role at First Tee and what is the most rewarding part of your job?

Senior Vice President, Business Operations. Definitely helping others be successful. And knowing that what we do is making a difference in the lives of young people.

This month we’re celebrating Black History Month and lifting up voices of Black participants, coaches and leaders exploring what it means to be a leader. What does leadership mean to you?

It means being a good example, practicing what I preach, and doing what I say I am going to do.  It also means being consistent and maintaining a great attitude no matter what… Attitude reflects leadership.

Did you always know you wanted to be in a leadership role? Can you share a little bit about your journey and how you’ve developed into your current role?

Yes. It started with my parents. People really respected them because of their strong work ethic and the manner in which they carried themselves. They would often get asked to lead various activities at church, work or in the community, and I knew one day I wanted follow in their footsteps. As I began my career, I held on to those qualities and observed others in leadership roles.  I learned what to do and what not to do, and from there I developed my own leadership style, which helped me to advance up the ladder and into the role I currently serve in.

Who were some of the strong voices or mentors in your life that inspired you?

My Wife, Parents and Pastors.

Can you give an example of a challenge you have faced in your career and how have you worked to overcome it?

Absolutely.  17 years ago, as a new manager, I was struggling trying to find ways to motivate one of my team members, and it really drove me crazy because I could not get this guy to perform at a higher level . Later that year, I went to a manager/leadership seminar and it was very enlightening. My biggest take way from the seminar was the effective listening session, and I was inspired and determined to take what I learned back to my office and try it on the team member I was struggling to motivate. And it worked! By listening, I was able to get to know him and build a relationship, which fostered trust. And in return, he trusted me and shared his goals and dreams with me. And because of that I was finally able to help him be successful because I listened to him and learned how to get his engine going.

How does or can First Tee play a role in bringing more diversity to our game?

By continuing to provide all young people, regardless of race, gender or social economic background, the opportunity to participate. And being intentional about hiring and recruiting leadership that looks like the community we want to serve.

What advice do you have for young people entering the job market determined to make a career for themselves?

  1. Do what you say you’re going to do.
  2. Don’t let anyone out work you.
  3. Pay your dues.
  4. Have fun!

Monica Blake – Lessons in Leadership

At First Tee, we guide kids to strengthen what’s inside and put it into action because strong character, inner strength and resilience is needed now more than ever. This month we are talking to leaders within our Network about their experiences and key lessons learned over the course of their careers.

Monica Blake, First Tee – Central Arkansas

What is your current role at First Tee and what is the most rewarding part of your job?

My name is Monica Blake and I am the Executive Director of First Tee-Central Arkansas. The most rewarding part of my job is making a positive impact on the lives of the youth and families we serve in Central Arkansas. As the Executive Director I’m able to serve as the voice of our participants and advocate on their behalf. I am also a certified First Tee coach and I have been intentional about staying involved in the coaching process. I believe that in order to be a successful leader it’s important that I stay connected to our participants and our mission. As the Executive Director, it’s essential to be a good steward of our donors and sponsoring donations and it’s very rewarding to see those contributions directly impact the youth that we serve.

This month we’re celebrating Black History Month and lifting up voices of Black participants, coaches and leaders exploring what it means to be a leader. What does leadership mean to you?

I believe that leadership isn’t about a title or position that you hold, but that it’s about the difference you make in someone’s life. As the leader of First Tee- Central Arkansas it’s important that I’m putting everyone within our organization in a position to not only be  successful, but to facilitate an environment where each participant, coach, and volunteer aspire to be the change they seek in the lives of the youth that we serve.

Did you always know you wanted to be in a leadership role? Can you share a little bit about your journey and how you’ve developed into your current role?

My journey with First Tee began in an entry level role as a volunteer coach in 2012. It was in this role, I realized the value that each position within the organization holds, and how it’s sometimes the person who’s the initial point of contact, that can make the biggest impact on a participant. As I reflect on my growth in the organization, and how my career has progressed, I was extremely fortunate for the opportunity to serve as a volunteer. It was instrumental in laying a foundation of what it means to serve and how to incorporate service into my leadership style. I quickly moved into the role of a paid coach and from there I was promoted to Program Director, where I served for 6 years. Being the Program Director allowed me to connect with the curriculum we were teaching and our mission as an organization and how it impacts each participant. In 2019, I became the first female African-American Executive Director of First Tee-Central Arkansas. I know it was every role that I’ve served, which helped prepare me for this amazing opportunity within this organization and has put me in the greatest position to be successful .

Who were some of the strong voices or mentors in your life that inspired you?

Harold Banks has been a mentor to not only myself, but to countless golfers throughout the Central Arkansas area. Harold was always willing to share his knowledge, skills and expertise with everyone in the golf community. He always had a positive attitude and took a personal interest in mentoring the next generation. Harold was instrumental in advancing black golfers in Little Rock and often his advice extended far beyond the golf course. He was respected by golfers throughout Central Arkansas and left a lasting impact on golfers for generations to come. The impact Harold has made on our community is something that truly inspires and motivates me to become a mentor and leader in the community.

Can you give an example of a challenge you have faced in your career and how have you worked to overcome it?

Having to lead during a pandemic was certainly a challenge and continues to be each day. One important lesson I’ve learned is how to constantly adapt to ever changing  circumstances and continue to modify and adjust as necessary. Flexibility and the power of teamwork are key pillars I have to lean on. Together, as an organization, we were able to navigate through our new circumstances and now we’re in a position to advance our organization even further. We were forced to evaluate our operations through a different lens, and I feel programming has benefited as a result.

How does or can First Tee play a role in bringing more diversity to our game? 

First Tee has the opportunity to play a fundamental role in increasing diversity in golf, especially in Central Arkansas.  The mission of our organization has always been to introduce our programming to underserved communities and now we have the opportunity to lead the charge in bringing diversity and inclusion into the game of golf. This is done by elevating black voices within the community and developing a plan to identify the disconnections and expanding opportunities for minorities. As an organization it is our responsibility to ensure that all participants are having an equitable experience.

What advice do you have for young people entering the job market determined to make a career for themselves?

My advice for young people entering the job market would be to find something that you are passionate about and where you can make a difference. Golf has always played a significant role in my life and as I’ve grown older so has the desire to help people in my community. I’m very fortunate to now serve in a role where I get to blend these two together. It is important to make an impact on the world around you and to help those who are in need.