A Gift of Empowerment, Belonging, and Love

At The First Tee, we seek to provide unique opportunities that are transformative and empowering for our participants. We believe that through the reinforcement of character education, connection to the community and exposure to caring, positive role models, our participants have the tools necessary to succeed in life. The following is a reflection piece written by Coach Nicole on a recent unique opportunity made possible through a generous donation by Jim Malone. “I’m nervous!” said Troy. “I’ve got butterfingers” said Jamal. “I’m going to throw as hard as I can… I’m going to try my best… if I mess up that’s okay too” said Klei. There is something truly special about first time experiences. There’s excitement, there’s nerves, there is anticipation of how it will unfold. Watching kids navigate the emotions of new experiences is one thing, but having the opportunity to actually be a part of that process with them as they step into each moment of the experience is another level of special. As a coach, the honor I receive is the invitation to walk through new experiences and emotions with each child. The joy of coaching is not in imparting knowledge or wisdom, the joy is in walking alongside each child offering encouragement and love as they discover the new things and navigate new emotions. Last month I had the opportunity to be a part of a unique new experience at The First Tee… This past year we have held a class partnered with the Charlottesville Police Department where officers pick up a group of students each week from Walker Elementary and bring them to Birdwood Golf Course to participate in a Life Skills Class together. The officers and participants have formed influential relationships as they have played and learned together each week. On May 11th, two police officers took 4 of the young boys from class to a UVA baseball game where all 4 boys threw out the first pitch. I could tell you what I saw… how the boys faces were full of excitement as they held shining white UVA baseballs in their hands, how they jumped out of their seats in anticipation as a foul ball came in their direction, or even how they shared fries and m&m’s with each other and myself. But that’s just the surface, that’s just the outcome of an even greater story of what I saw happening in their hearts…. Thanks to a generous donation of a new experience, 4 young boys were picked up by 2 police officers and they felt the joy of being set apart and special. They walked up to the ticket gates and into the stadium together and they knew they belonged and were accepted by one another. They were escorted into the dugout where they waited in nervous anticipation, and we made them laugh and reassured them that it was not about how they threw the ball but about the opportunity to be on the field and enjoy the experience, and they began to take control over their anxious thoughts and have confidence. And when they walked off the field in smiles and laughs they walked a little taller, empowered by conquering their nerves and energized by the stadium full of fans. As the night continued they received hot dogs, fries and m&m’s from the officers and I saw these young children feel safe and cared for.  And because they had received such abundance, their hearts were freely willing to share what they had with others- mainly fries and m&m’s with me! I watched them all stand together leaning over the railing chatting and cheering, and I saw that they received more than just an opportunity to throw the first pitch and watch a UVA baseball game, they received the gift of empowerment, belonging and love. At The First Tee, GOLF IS MORE THAN A GAME!
  Nicole Cattley is our Life Skills Coordinator and serves as Head Coach for the Charlottesville Police Department partner class. 

First Tee Links Up with Albemarle Alternative Learning Program

By Josh Mandell / Charlottesville Tomorrow

First Tee Links up with Albemarle alternative learning program

Angelina Hillier said she used to think of golf as an “old-man sport,” and had little desire to try it for herself. But this spring, the Western Albemarle High School junior has enjoyed her weekly visits to the Birdwood Golf Course with the First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge. “[First Tee] turns golf into something that teens can enjoy,” Hillier said.
Enterprise Center @ First Tee (1), April 30 2018
Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow
Oveyon Ford, a student at the Enterprise Center for Learning and Growth, lines up a putt at a First Tee golf clinic at the Birdwood Golf Course. Also pictured, from left: Renee Willis, Jin Ellington, Angelina Hillier.
  Hillier is participating in the golf clinics with her classmates at the Enterprise Center for Learning and Growth, an alternative learning program for Albemarle County middle and high school students who have struggled in traditional school settings. The Enterprise Center typically serves fewer than 20 students at a time in the Ivy Creek School building on Lambs Lane. Renee Willis, a teacher at the Enterprise Center, said it gives students the opportunity to continue their education in an intimate learning environment, and then return to their base schools when they are back on track. “Many of these students were good at flying under the radar,” Willis said. “Here, you can’t help but to be noticed.” “The Enterprise Center is smaller than a normal school, so there is no drama,” Hillier said. “Everyone is really close, and teachers are very focused on students’ mental health.” The center previously partnered with the First Tee of Charlottesville, a chapter of First Tee that was discontinued after the closure of the McIntire Park golf course in 2015. Jin Ellington, Executive Director of the First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge, said she was excited to revive the partnership this year. “Our mission is to serve all kids, and to increase the impact we can make on kids who might not have access to our resources,” Ellington said. “These are the kids we really have a heart for serving.”
Enterprise Center @ First Tee (2), April 30 2018
Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow
Javonyai Burns prepares to chip at the Birdwood Golf Course.
  First Tee-VBR offers after-school golf lessons and summer camps that are open to all children. However, Ellington said the enrollment of these programs often does not reflect the diversity of Charlottesville’s population. To broaden its reach, First Tee-VBR works with physical education classes at local schools and hosts youth-serving organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia. “We are working with groups that don’t normally have transportation and access to a golf course on a regular basis,” Ellington said. “It’s good to be part of a network of partnerships like this in Charlottesville.” Willis said the Enterprise Center’s First Tee participants have taken a “healthy risk” by coming to the Birdwood Golf Course — a very unfamiliar environment for some of the students. “It is healthy to put yourself in environments you have not been to before and learn how to remain poised and engaged; to be uncomfortable and work through that,” Willis said. Willis said the Enterprise Center often brings students on field trips to introduce them to unfamiliar places in the community and to expose them to different career fields.“When you’re not successful, you often don’t look beyond the little world where you are struggling,” Willis said. “You don’t realize that there is something else out there for you to strive for.” First Tee is a national organization that uses golf to teach core values for life, including honesty, confidence and respect. It also teaches healthy habits to promote physical, emotional and social wellbeing. Bruce Blair, First Tee-VBR’s program director, recently led a team-building game for the Enterprise Center students designed to teach the core value of integrity. Boys and girls separated into teams and passed a suitcase from one person to the next while standing on small rubber mats spaced farther than an arm’s length apart. If someone lost their balance and stepped off their mat, the team had to return the suitcase to the beginning of the line. Students were asked to self-enforce this rule, just as golfers are typically responsible for calling penalties on themselves.“No one is going to call you out,” Blair said. “You only have to worry about yourselves. … Integrity is about doing what is right, even when no one is watching.” Blair said he tries to take a subtle approach to character lessons for teens, and gives them freedom to make their own choices. “These kids don’t like to be preached to,” Blair said. “They already are preached to a lot.” Ellington, who recently completed her first year as executive director, said her vision for First Tee-VBR is to provide academic support and mentorship that will help young people prepare for college and their careers. First Tee-VBR plans to offer a financial literacy lesson from a BB&T employee after the Enterprise Center students finish their golf activities Monday.  “It’s great to teach these core values, but what really matters is the impact we are having on kids’ lives,” Ellington said. “I want a high school student to be able to put First Tee on their résumé as something that transformed and changed their life.” Source: http://www.cvilletomorrow.org/news/article/30620-first-tee-links-up-with-albemarle-alternative/?utm_source=Charlottesville+Tomorrow&utm_campaign=13615aef8f-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_05_11&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f16601be84-13615aef8f-32060765&mc_cid=13615aef8f&mc_eid=6132f2a03d