From birdie to bogey and everything else in between, First Tee Coachella Valley has remained vigilant in its mission to provide the area’s children ample opportunities to build new life skills and strengthen their character.

Doing it through the game of golf, the organization hopes that newfound life skills and enhanced self-confidence allows children to find success throughout their lifetime.

“First Tee is not just a golf program, we’re a life skills program,” said Teal Guion, Executive Director of First Tee Coachella Valley. “We’re teaching kids to be the best version of themselves. We’re very much wanting to help all kids in the Coachella Valley.”

To that end, the organization diligently reaches out to many populations throughout Coachella Valley—from the Hispanic, LGBTQ+ communities, and more—being “intentional” about getting into neighborhoods where kids haven’t been exposed to the game of golf.

“You would think out here in the desert, that golf is just a part of the lifestyle for families, but it’s really not—it’s part of the lifestyle for the retirement community,” Guion noted. “There are many family members working at these resorts and country clubs, but their kids—and even they themselves—don’t necessarily get exposed to the game of golf. And there are many life lessons to be experienced in the golf.”

Some those life lessons, Guion said, include learning how to meet challenges with a positive attitude; understanding various courtesies—from respect to responsibility— and embracing a wide range of core values that enhance basic life skills.

“We’ve seen a lot of kids come out of the program with a better skill set than many people may have had at age 7 or 8, or even when they left high school. These kids come out of the program 10 years beyond that. Every young person who sticks with the program throughout high school has a different tool belt to use. They’ve been exposed to a lot more interactions with adults, and more leadership,’ Guion shared.

Recently, First Tee Coachella Valley received a Community Impact Fund grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation. First Tee will use the funds to create a new diversity club for the organization—a restructured version of First Tee’s LGBTQ+ club.

“Some young people are still unsure if they fit into an LGBTQ+ group or not,” Guion said, “They might feel not able to share information with family members just yet. Through the diversity club, we hope to engage all the kids who may feel they’re a little diverse, or even outside of the cookie cutter mold. “We really want to help all the kids in the Coachella Valley who have that need to express themselves.”

As the organization heads deeper into fall and into 2023, Guion pointed out an organizational desire for locals to get more involved with First Tee, too.

“I’d love people to know that our organization is only possible with the help of volunteer support from the entire community, especially the golf community,” she said, noting its programs took a hit during the pandemic, when First Tee lost many of its volunteers during statewide lockdowns and beyond.

“We have great lead instructors, but the way we’re able to connect kids and get more one-on-one conversations with our young people is by having more class support through volunteer coaches,” Guion said.

People don’t need to be golf professionals, she quickly noted.

“Our volunteers help support the classes. The lead instructors write the lesson plans, and the volunteers are given those plans in advance,” Guion explained. “They do their best to support the program, the classes, and the character education that’s taught. Our volunteers all have their own unique backgrounds and diverse lives. And that really helps the kids, too.”

She said that there are 63,000 kids located in First Tee’s service area.

“The goal is to get a golf club into each and every one of their hands,” she said. “We have to be intentional about that and as such, we host outreach events where we’re meeting kids where they’re at, we have bilingual coaches, and we have parent guides. We’re constantly trying to figure out the best way to reach all the kids out here and expose them the game of golf.”

 

For more information on First Tee Coachella Valley, visit firstteecoachellavalley.org.

This article originally appeared in the Desert Sun, November 2022.

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