Golf and Growth: Children Empowered at First Tee-Central Florida

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First Tee-Central Florida is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing children with opportunities to learn and play golf, especially those who may not have access to the sport. Its mission is to impact the lives of these young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values, and promote healthy choices through the game of golf. 

New Executive Director Wanda Brewer Ickes joined the First Tee family in January and shared how her passion for the work stems from her personal life experiences.  

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are the fabric of our organization,” Brewer Ickes says. “I am a child abuse survivor and a former foster teen, so I understand what goes on in the heart and soul of a vulnerable child and how someone showing that they have an interest in you makes you feel stronger and safer. What a difference that makes.”

First Tee programs are available at 141 elementary K-8 schools and community centers. The personal growth and junior golf programs aim to inspire more active participation in leadership, community involvement, and events. The coaches and volunteers at First Tee are passionate about the game of golf and the mission of First Tee. They work tirelessly to create a positive and supportive environment for young people. However, transportation has been a big hurdle for the program. 

“Thanks to the Arnold and Winnie Palmer Foundation, we are getting a 15-passenger van. We can close another gap,” Brewer Ickes says.

Ensuring the safety of their staff and volunteers is a top priority at First Tee. Everyone who works with the organization undergoes a background check and is Safe Sport trained. The van will allow First Tee to safely transport children, feeding into its goal of prioritizing teen retention.

According to Brewer Ickes, First Tee has found it crucial to keep teens engaged and involved in the organization to provide them with mentorship and positive role models and to help them develop leadership skills. To achieve this, First Tee has implemented various strategies, such

as providing opportunities for teens to volunteer and become youth coaches, and nominating them for national opportunities. By prioritizing teen retention, they hope to create a supportive community where young people feel valued and empowered to make positive changes in their lives and communities.

So, if you have a heart for children, love the game of golf, and want to give back, visit https://firstteecfl.org/ to learn how to get involved. 

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Written by Alexis George

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