Building Game Changers

Local nonprofit helps area kids from all walks of life.
First Tee of South-Central Wisconsin students learning in a classroom.
First Tee of South-Central Wisconsin

Part of a national non-profit organization with over 180 chapters worldwide, First Tee of South-Central Wisconsin is making a difference in the lives of Wisconsin youth and the Madison community.

While most First Tee chapters focus on the game of golf itself, this local chapter provides educational programs for youth that instill life enhancing values and promote healthy choices. Because Wisconsin’s achievement gap within grades K-12 is one of the worst in the nation, it became apparent that these students, especially those in Madison, need something more.

“The achievement gap is disappointing to our community and kids, and we’re focused on closing that,” said Executive Director Ashlyn Mehlhaff. “We’ve seen a lot of success in the program, where kids have increased anywhere from 1 – 2.5 grade levels in their proficiency in math and reading.”

Each day, kids ages 3 to 18 come to learn about one of First Tee’s nine core values. Stemming from these values are lessons, a remediation program, and tutoring, as well as a golf experience not often accessible to program students.

Starting as an after-school program, it became clear that many of these kids needed somewhere to go in the summers, winters, and during school breaks.

Continuous programming is crucial in encouraging and assisting youth in ending an oftentimes cyclical pattern, where the inability to become proficient in math and literacy quickly leads to behavioral issues and aggression.

But this continuous programming, which helped over 17,500 Wisconsin youth in 2019, requires funding which has been increasingly difficult to

come by amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s quite a big budget to make sure we can afford the opportunity for these kids,” said Mehlhaff. “We’re basically doing everything we can to reach these kids, and without fundraising that has been difficult. But we will not let these kids fail.”

To donate to First Tee of South-Central Wisconsin, visit firstteescw.org/ways-to-give