For the last 10 years, Rick Waltman, executive director of The First Tee of St. Petersburg, has had the dream of building a mentoring and learning center to help children from elementary school through high school age become well-rounded adults.
“What if all kids, no matter how rich or how poor, no matter where they lived or their ethnicity…ALL kids had the chance to learn how to play golf? What if they learned what golf imparts?” said Waltman.
That dream is slated to become a reality this year. The First Tee of St. Petersburg, a leading youth program that uses golf as a vehicle to help build life skills, is building a much-needed home base for their organization on the Twin Brooks golf course located at 3800 22nd Avenue South with a 3000+ square foot mentoring center. The St. Petersburg chapter was awarded a grant to make this possible through a Community Development block. The City of St. Petersburg has also dedicated a practice area for The First Tee of St. Petersburg, which includes three holes for the junior golf program and adult golf development. Currently, The First Tee is operating out of a closet at the Mangrove Bay Pro Shop but will relocate to the Twin Brooks location once the golf course renovation and mentoring center construction is completed.
“The anticipated completion for the project will be in November, weather permitting,” said Pamela Arbisi, director of business development for The First Tee of St. Petersburg. “We are working in tandem with the city, which is revitalizing the golf course. Then the mentoring and education center construction will begin, probably in July.”
The St. Petersburg chapter reaches over 4100 youth participants annually, aged 6-18, with 85 percent considered “at risk.” The program is built around The First Tee Nine Core Values® of honesty, integrity, confidence, perseverance, respect, sportsmanship, responsibility, courtesy and judgment. Classes, clinics and camps are held year-round at the three city-owned golf courses: Twin Brooks, Mangrove Bay and Cypress Links.
The First Tee also provides scholarship assistance to over 75 percent of participants. The program is fee based but no child is turned away because they can’t pay due to a combination of grants and individual and corporate contributions.
“With the current graduation rate of 50 percent in the Twin Brooks area, and maybe not even a single parent in the home to take care of these children, we want to provide a home they can come to,” said Arbisi.
Future plans and programs include an after-school area, an art studio, a fitness room, a computer lab, a recreation center and classrooms for tutoring and homework assistance.
“The goal is an all-encompassing program to help build basic life skills while providing a safe haven,” said Arbisi. “We even want to teach the small things like balancing a checkbook or sewing on a button that we all might take for granted.”
Annual events such as the Celebrity ProAm in January and the Summer Classic adult and youth golf event plus a seafood fest and country hoedown help provide funding. Donations to The First Tee of St. Petersburg’s Digging For A Dream Capital Campaign will also help the program’s mission to be a champion for the children who will benefit the community for a lifetime.
Volunteers are always welcome. Often kids who have gone through the program become youth mentors, according to Arbisi.
“There is a greeting in Africa. Instead of saying ‘How are you?’ they ask ‘How are the children?’” said Arbisi. “If the answer is ‘The children are well,’ then life is good. It’s all about the children.”
To donate; volunteer; or apply for the program, visit thefirstteestpetersburg.org; call 727-551-3300; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of The First Tee St. Petersburg.