“Hitting the ball!” exclaimed eight-year-old Marcello Perez when asked what his favorite part of the game was. It was fun for the whole family, but the benefits of this programming go way beyond the driving range. “Being able to coordinate something that so visibly impacted these kids made my heart happy,” commented Vanessa Mobley Knox, the 21st Century Family Engagement Coordinator with Ngage New Mexico. “I had the pleasure of witnessing these young people strengthening communication skills, learning leadership qualities, and making new friends in the process.”
21st Century Programming is designed to increase access to out-of-school time activities, and Vanessa does not lose time creating opportunities for Doña Ana County families. When word of increased funding for Outdoor Equity was received, Vanessa directly began researching sports and outdoor activities that are not easily accessible in our community. Her search was met with enthusiasm by Eli Eilers, Sonoma Ranch PGA Professional. “I’m about bringing the game of golf to people, and the work that Ngage does with bringing people together made this a perfect partnership,” tells Eli. “We hoped to expose children to activities they may never have even thought of trying before,” adds Vanessa. Not long after, they had the blueprint for golf workshops with absolutely no cost barrier for families.
“Recruiting for the golf workshops was easy!” reported Vanessa. The community demand was so high that instead of one two-week workshop, they expanded to provide multiple workshops spanning over four months. Twenty-four families attended the golf workshops, where they learned the basics of golf, including course etiquette, proper methods of holding and swinging the club, sportsmanship, and other golf tips under the guidance of local professionals! Everything was free, and equipment was provided for all activities. Out of those 24 families, three of the young golfers continued to join the Jr. PGA League representing Sonoma Ranch Golf Course, and they were able to do so through a scholarship program, keeping the fun going for free. The format is a two-person scramble where they have a teammate who they have to strategize with. Eli remembered, “how cool it is to see their social skills improve over the course of the program.”
When Marcelo started the workshop, he kept to himself and never volunteered to be the leader of any activity. By the end of the tournament, he would confidently lead the team and encourage his teammates just to do their best. “I realized I’m a good swinger,” Marcello exclaimed. He was one among others that stood out to the instructors. They could see how much he enjoyed the game and wanted to ensure the process and resources for continuing on to the Jr. PGA League were clearly laid out for him and his parents.
The ripple of impact from establishing this program is far-reaching. Families had an opportunity to be outdoors together without the stress of trying to figure out how to pay for it. The workshops were set in the middle of the week after working hours, making them more accessible for working families. Some participants were surprised to learn that most universities have competitive golf teams that offer scholarship opportunities. The bonding so clearly ingrained throughout the process is a priceless souvenir. The social, emotional, cognitive, and leadership skills imprinted on these youth will undeniably benefit them as they grow. Eli shares, “golf is a lifelong sport, and bringing that to children and their families and seeing them grow is such a beautiful thing.”
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