This is the script for the speech given by Jin Ellington, Executive Director, at the 3rd annual Spring Luncheon on April 2, 2018.
Thank you so much Ellen for providing us a framework to better understand how The First Tee, as a sports-based organization, is also first and foremost a youth development organization. Given your expertise in this area, it’s so encouraging to hear that we’re doing it right and that we’re doing it well.
I am inspired each day by my board members and staff who have the passion for making a difference in kids’ lives. Our board had the vision 2 years ago to reinstate this chapter of The First Tee in order to continue to provide access and opportunities and to teach life-enhancing values and skills to all youth in this community.
Prior to coming to The First Tee, I was involved with an education nonprofit that worked exclusively with Title I middle schools in providing afterschool, extended learning opportunities for low-income students. During my first year, I’ll never forget hearing from an assistant principal that Joshua, one of the tallest, biggest 8th grade boys in the school who also played defense for the school football team and generally had a tough facade, came into her office the Friday before spring break crying. And why was he crying? Joshua was worried for himself and his younger siblings because the breakfast and lunch they received each day at school were the only meals they got and of course, school would be out of session for the next week. That was the defining moment for me. It became crystal clear to me that in order for this young man to even have the remote chance to break out of the poverty cycle, he had to start on a pathway towards success. He had to have the academic skills needed to graduate high school. But that pathway meant more than just passing English and math. He had to be surrounded by caring adults who would serve as mentors to guide him. He had to be able to envision himself in a career he loved doing and most importantly, he had to believe in his ability to accomplish that.
The First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge exists because we believe that we can transform students’ lives for the better. That we can teach social and emotional skills that are in fact better determinants of students’ success. Based upon research by CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, programs like ours, that specifically teach students how to recognize and understand their emotions, feel empathy, make decisions, and build and maintain relationships can not only have significant immediate positive effects on students’ behavior and academic performance, but can also lead to lasting changes on important developmental outcomes long after the program has ended. For example, students showed improvement in learning outcomes and academic achievement such as a 6% increase in high school graduation rates and an 11% increase in college graduation rates, Additionally, students were also less likely to ever be arrested, become involved with the juvenile justice system, or become involved with substance abuse.
Within the 5 C Framework that Ellen shared, our current programs and curriculum already contribute to the 5 C’s. For example, our Nine Core Values obviously help shape our students’ character and confidence, teaching them responsibility, perseverance, and integrity. Our Nine Healthy Habits with the focus on emotional and social development teach our students how to be empathetic to others, appreciate diversity and meet the “Caring” piece of the framework. The First Tee creates Connections for students by providing fun, engaging afterschool activities both in partnership with youth-serving organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Central Virginia and exclusively through our classes at the golf courses. Our coaches are caring, passionate people who undergo rigorous training in learning how to not only teach the game of golf but also how to build supportive relationships based on empathy and high positive expectations. They help participants set goals and they inspire them to use valuable skills beyond golf.
Just as Joshua needed all the pieces of the puzzle, our challenge now is to figure out how to do a better job in building upon our students’ academic and career-related competencies and how to continue to inspire our students to be leaders and contribute back to society. So in my vision for our program impact we have our own C’s – three of them in fact: to help our participants be college-ready, career-ready, and community ready. Moving forward, we will make even more explicit the connections between the lessons and values learned in golf and how they translate to school. We will help them develop the academic skills needed to graduate high school and then help them understand and navigate the different college pathways available to them. We will provide participants exposure to the multitude of careers out there and support them in developing the skills necessary to be workplace ready. And most importantly, we will create opportunities for participants to take all they’ve gained and to put it into practice through leadership, community service, and giving back.
As a mother of two young children, I am blessed enough to say my kids will probably never have to worry about whether there is food on the table or a roof over their heads. Of course as a parent I worry about what college my kids will get into and whether or not they’ll have a successful career. However, when I think back to my own life, my defining moments, and the legacy I want to leave behind. It isn’t the fact that I had a great education and experience at Duke University or that I’ve dedicated my career to education and youth-based nonprofits and now serve as the Executive Director of The First Tee. It’s instead in the way I treat others. It’s what I do when I make mistakes or when I am faced with challenges. It’s the kind of person and my character that I want to be remembered for. At the end of the day, The First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge is here to educate, inspire, and transform the lives of the youth in this area – to help our kids become good golfers but even more so, better people. The youth in this community need you to be engaged and to get involved- I hope you will join us on this journey to make a difference in their lives.