Madison non-profit uses golf, mentorship, to try and close the gap for at-risk kids

MADISON, Wis. – The First Tee of South-Central Wisconsin says it’s trying harder than ever to use golf and mentorship to reach students in the Madison area who are at risk of struggling in school or at home.

The organization, which has chapters throughout the United States, has been working overtime to accomplish this goal since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

In Madison, that means utilizing the East Madison Community Center as a space for students to go throughout the week.

“A lot of kids are tactile learners,” said Director of Community Outreach Nate Savado. “Being in front of a screen for eight hours a day can be exhausting.”

Savado says prior to COVID, First Tee Operated as an after-school program out of Vitense Golf Land, Cherokee Golf Club and Nine Springs Golf Club.

“We use golf as a carrot,” Savado said. “We do their education, then they can go to the golf side.”

But with districts like MMSD pivoting to entirely virtual instruction, he says the need to assist students *during* the day has grown.

“We thought the kids would be done by noon and we would have four hours to do our learning center program, but that’s not the case,” he said. “The kids go to class all day. It can be exhausting.”

The program now uses the community center’s gym for indoor golfing activities like putting challenges. Savado says it’s a chance for students to work off anxiety and frustration that can build during online classes students are still trying to get used to.

“You see a kid get frustrated and throw a computer across the room or slam it on the table,” Savado said. “Lash out because the teacher doesn’t talk to them. There’s nothing that’s harming them, but it the same sense, it’s affecting them.”

The First Tee program aims to teach students nine core values, like respect and healthy habits, through the game of golf. Savado says even during a pandemic, he’s hopeful that they’re making progress.

More than anything, he says the organization is still in need of volunteer support.

“Get involved with First Tee,” he said. “Come in and see how the kids work in the learning center. How the kids play on the golf activity…If you care, and a kid sees you care, you’ll be back. You’re guaranteed to be back. Because you’ll know that you’re making a difference in a young kid’s life.”

News 3 Now is a proud sponsor of First Tee and the organization’s Giving Tuesday initiative, Tee It Up Tuesday. Donations can be made online or by phone at 608-327-5514.