Life Skills Experience
The First Tee of Battle Creek’s Life Skills Experience is a youth leadership program that teaches young people core values and life skills, like respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and integrity. The sessions, running from May to September, use the game of golf and its inherent values as a way to teach youth perseverance and build self-confidence.
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates this program?
The First Tee of Battle Creek
: So many youth development programs are focused on teaching children the hard skills, like reading, writing, math, and science. While each of those areas are important, we are different because we focus on the soft skills that are not traditionally taught in schools -- skills like perseverance and what it means to be a person of integrity.
Our program is unique in that we use the game of golf, which is a game unlike any other. Its individual nature is what makes it different from other youth sports programs. Playing the game helps kids develop the skills to understand the type of person they are, and, more importantly, the person they want to become.
What are the keys to success for your program?
We expose children to golf – kids who might not otherwise have the opportunity to play. That is a very important component.
...we focus on the soft skills that are not traditionally taught in schools -- skills like perseverance and what it means to be a person of integrity.
But the most important key to success is the highly trained staff: the certified coaches and teachers, the mentors, and the golf professionals who lead by example. Also, our dedicated volunteers. All of these people have a passion for youth and want to help them grow into successful adults. They are the people who make it happen, the people we cannot do without.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
Many people do not realize how many kids we impact every year; we need to increase awareness, so that more people know who we are and what we do. We do have great support from the United Way; they advocate for us and let people know that The First Tee of Battle Creek is an organization that really produces positive change for kids with its programs.
Another thing, because we are affiliated with a national organization, there is a public perception that that we must have so much national support that we don’t need more funding. That’s absolutely not true; every cent of our budget is raised locally, and we need more local funding to help more kids. To accomplish that, we need more exposure. We are working on this by developing new media partnerships and increasing our existing partnerships. The Battle Creek Enquirer has been wonderful. We’re looking for more media outlets all the time so that we can spread the word that we really do need money to keep our program running.
How does your program address issues of socioeconomic, educational, and racial equity?
I don’t care what color you are, where you live, how much money your family has or where you go to school. None of that matters. Life Skills Experience is a program that helps all children, regardless of their backgrounds, to play golf. There is a fee to participate, but we have a scholarship fund, and we have never turned a child away because of an inability to pay that
After they complete the program, they know how to be respectful to themselves and to others, and they demonstrate it.
fee. Everyone is equal here.
Describe the differences among the young people who initially join your Life Skills Experience program and the same kids when they complete it.
Some kids who come into this program have no understanding of what is means to be respectful or how important that is. After they complete the program, they know how to be respectful to themselves and to others, and they demonstrate it.
Many kids who come to us have never swung a golf club, but they leave us with the skills to play the game. They leave knowing how to apply this knowledge and to have a lot of fun while they do that.
We see shy, quiet kids, with a lack of self-confidence, walk through our doors, hanging their heads. It’s wonderful to watch them leave us, smiling with their heads held high because of the experience they had and the new self-confidence they’ve developed. It’s a great transformation.