JP Ray – First Tee Alumnus

What happens when you provide free programs? The results are game-changing. 

With support from Southern Hills Country Club, host of this week’s PGA Championship, First Tee – Tulsa provides free character-building programs to everyone who walks through their door. JP Ray is one of many participants impacted by the program.

Developing Positive Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month – a great time to check in with yourself and consider how you might be able to support others. 

“Showing up for others means that you are there for someone when they need you,” explained Emma Laker, a participant with First Tee — Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky. “You show kindness by helping others and not just thinking of yourself. You give people the respect they deserve.” 

Mental health challenges can affect anyone – from professional golfers to friends and family. In 2019, a third of high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

All of that is to say: If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. 

Be there for your team and ask for help when you need it 

Emma said it feels good to have people she can count on. “It shows me that I am surrounded by friends and family that love me no matter what. I can look up to my friends and family to help me through the rough times,” she said. 

Who is on your go-to team? Maybe it’s family, friends, teachers and coaches. Building strong relationships is one of the best strategies for improving your mental health, according to the CDC. 

Game Changers seek out good groups of people that lift them up and allow them to feel safe to be themselves. 

If you’re feeling alone, there are organizations that can help

Talk about your feelings 

It takes lots of courage to speak out about mental health issues you may be facing. By sharing your challenges, you’re not only helping yourself but others, too.  

Recently prominent members of the sports world, from Simone Biles to Michael Phelps, have talked about their own struggles and the importance of destigmatizing mental health challenges. No one should feel embarrassed or scared to acknowledge the difficulties they’re facing. 

Talking about your problems is the best way to find help! Some mental health situations do require bigger interventions, which is why it’s important to talk to adults about how you’re feeling. 

Develop a healthy mindset 

As we’ve all seen over the last few years, there are periods when unexpected challenges appear. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many kids experienced the difficulties that come with virtual school, family financial troubles and even losing loved ones.  

Fortunately, there are ways to help prepare for tough times.  

  • Stay positive: Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go perfectly and take a few moments to feel proud of your victories – no matter how small. 
  • Do your best: Giving your best effort helps you realize your capabilities. 
  • Give back: Emma volunteers at her church and school, and it feels amazing, she said. “I realize how extremely lucky and blessed I am to have all the love and support of my family and friends. When I am helping others, I feel like I am giving them some of my joy and happiness.” 
  • Take ownership: It’s normal to feel anxious sometimes but remember that you have control over many of the challenges you face. Practicing problem solving tools like STAR – Stop, Think, Anticipate, Respond – can help you feel empowered when future difficulties arise. 

Building Understanding, Trust and Empathy with Active Listening

Every conversation can be an opportunity to learn something new, build trust with someone, and deepen connections. This happens when we build the skill of active listening and learn to treat listening as an active process – not a passive one. 

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. It’s about being present, listening to understand (not respond), and showing active interest and engagement in the dialogue.  

Why does it matter? 

Active listening is an important skill for all of us to cultivate. Not only is it an important leadership skill, it has been shown to promote mindful thinking, can reduce anxiety and depression, helps build relationships and can promote empathy.  

How do we practice it?

At First Tee, we use a process called A-L-R to help build connection through active listening. This helps us to deepen conversations, keep them going, and get the most out of them. Here’s how A-L-R works:

  • Asking questions: Asking thoughtful questions is not only a way you can keep the conversation going, but it gives you a deeper understanding of the person or topic you are engaging with. 
    • Helpful Tip: Be curious. Try asking questions that dig a bit deeper: How did they feel in that moment? What was going on in their minds during that experience? What would they do differently the next time? These make the conversation richer, rather than closed-ended questions that are typically answered with a simple Yes or No.  
  • Listening to understand: When you ask a question, it is important to listen carefully to what the person is saying. We can sometimes be fixated on what we are going to say next, or when it’s our turn to jump back into the conversation, but try not to think about what you are going to say next.. Your focus is on them and their perspective rather than your own. 
    • Helpful Tip: Make an effort to try to clear your mind first of any distracting thoughts. It can help to jot down a mental or physical note of things on your mind in order to give your full attention. 
  • Reflect & respond to the reply: Keep the conversation going by responding in a way that connects with what they just said. You can try to restate in your own words what the person said, share what you think or feel about it, or ask another open-ended question that connects with what the person just said.
    • Helpful Tip: Show engagement and interest in what they are saying: look them in the eye when they are talking, use body language like nodding your head.


Active listening requires work, but you’ll be surprised at how much reward there is when you approach conversations and communication with this skill. Active listening is just one of the skills we are supporting kids and teens to build at First Tee. Click here to find out more about our programs.

First Tee Scholars – Class of 2021

In 2021, twelve high school graduates have been selected to the First Tee College Scholarship Program based on academic performance, length and involvement in First Tee programs, financial need and commitment to volunteerism. This class of scholars includes aspiring engineers, accountants, teachers and environmental activists, all of whom will be attending stand out colleges and universities, including Dartmouth University, University of Pennsylvania, Boston College, University of Indiana and other top institutions across the country. The Scholars also represent diverse backgrounds from communities across the First Tee network. The class is comprised of eight females and four males. The Scholars’ average GPA is 4.19 on a 4.0 scale and hold an average of 1,422 out of 1,600 on SAT and 31 out of 36 on ACT. Five of the Scholars will play on their college’s golf team. First Tee College Scholarship Program supports selected alumni throughout their college career in an effort to further their life skill development and mentorship. The need and merit-based program provides scholarships up to $5,000 per year, renewable for up to four years of college admission. The program also provides professional development workshops, access to internships and full-time employment placement post-graduation. One of the key factors of the program is pairing Scholars with a dedicated adult mentor who will help encourage and guide them throughout the four years.

Meet the Scholars

Claire Alford, First Tee — Central Coast Santa Clara University American Mathematics Champion, AP Scholar with Distinction and American Indian/Hispanic National Merit Scholar are just a few of the amazing individual achievements Claire has attained in her life. What is more impressive, though, is Claire’s drive to help her community and create outlets that impact others. Of the many clubs and funds Claire has created, one was Birdies for Baskets. This was an initiative by Claire, in which she played 65 holes of golf in a single day raising more than $1,000 providing food baskets for under privileged families. Graduating with a 4.56 GPA, Claire plans to major in Public Health and Biology with a goal of becoming an anesthesiologist. Marion Caldwell, First Tee — Four Corners Dartmouth University Pursuing a future in teaching, Marion is passionate about passing down the knowledge she has obtained throughout her life to the children within her community. Marion will attend Dartmouth University where she will major in both English and History. Throughout high school, Marion achieved numerous academic honors such as national honor society and earning a cumulative 4.39 GPA. When asked who her dream golf foursome is, Caldwell said a close friend, someone to teach and someone to learn from. Marion’s enthusiasm for both teaching and learning aligns perfectly with the goals and values of First Tee. She is a 10-year participant at First Tee — Four Corners and is the first participant to achieve ACE certification, the highest designation in the First Tee program.  Natalie Cao, First Tee — Greater Houston University of Pennsylvania  Earning a cumulative 4.37 GPA, Natalie strives for greatness in both the classroom and on the course. While at the University of Pennsylvania, Natalie will play on the women’s golf team and will major in economics. She has used her passion for economics to become a financial advisor to help her community, working as the sole junior cashier and assistant treasurer for a bi-monthly book sale, raising more than $12,000 each year for her library. An eight-year participant at First Tee — Greater Houston, Natalie has also been a First Tee Junior Mentor since 2015 making a monumental impact on many through both the game of golf, and her desire to help others. On her goal of becoming a financial advisory, Natalie thinks it’s very similar to mentoring kids at First Tee as she’ll give counsel to those who seek her assistance and knowledge, focusing on financial goals instead of golf goals. Molly Castle, First Tee — Tennessee University of Tennessee Knoxville As a First Tee — Tennessee participant for seven years, Molly has achieved ACE certification, the highest designation in the First Tee program, and used that experience and her love of golf for helping others within her community. She is an active volunteer for Second Harvest Food Bank and the Tennessee School for the Blind, where she assists those who are visually impaired learn the game of golf. Molly is a triplet and while her siblings have decided to continue their golf careers in college, Molly has chosen to focus on her passion to study agriculture and her drive for continued academic success. Malisone Chanthapanya, First Tee — Forth Worth Texas Wesleyan University A 12-year participant at First Tee — Fort Worth, Malisone is the youngest participant to ever achieve ACE Certification in the chapter’s history. She serves on the Chapter Junior Advisory Committee and will play in the 2021 First Tee National Championship. With a cumulative 4.0 GPA combined with her success on the course, Malison plans to continue her golf career at Texas Wesleyan University while double majoring in computer science and accounting. Quincy Crawford, First Tee — Greater Washington D.C. University of Cincinnati Being a part of the First Tee — Greater Washington D.C. for a decade, Quincy has been able to make an impact in his community using both his love for golf, and his passion to help others. Quincy has plans to study Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, but the impressive academic achievements do not stop there. Fluent in four languages – English, French, Italian, Russian – Quincy earned a cumulative 3.98 GPA while being on the honor roll all four years throughout high school. He was named captain of his high school golf team and plays bass in his school’s advanced orchestra. The First Tee Scholarship Program will empower him as he pursues his goal of using his Aerospace Engineering degree to create fuel-efficient aircrafts, lessoning the overall carbon footprint and possibly slow the rate of climate change. Rebecca Jones, First Tee — Indiana Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology With goals of one day working on environmentally friendly engineering projects, Rebecca will be studying environmental engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Holding a cumulative GPA of 3.39, the classroom is not the only place Rebecca exceled, as she was a three-sport athlete (Basketball, Golf, Track) in high school earning all-conference accolades in each. Being a member of the First Tee — Indiana for six years and achieving multiple medals as a competitor, Rebecca has been able to use golf as both an outlet to give back and succeed individually. Not only thriving in the classroom and athletic fields, she is a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo and a five-year president of the Orchestra Council. Rebecca is most excited about using her degree to earn a career focusing on land remediation and implementing new systems to reduce pollution, ultimately striving to make the area she grew up in a cleaner and greener place that will benefit the entire community. Josh Lendach, First Tee — Triangle University of Cincinnati Through both his hard work in the classroom and on the golf course, Josh has earned the privilege to play golf at the University of Cincinnati. Josh has been a part of the First Tee — Triangle for 13 years and continues to use golf as an outlet to help others. He’s been a junior coach and mentor for the younger First Tee participants, raises money at an annual charity golf event benefiting the Nicklaus Children’s Foundation, and when schools closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, he founded Golf Gives Back with his fellow high school golf teammates to collect food for those in need. Hoping his passions for golf and environmental/atmospheric sciences collide, Josh wants to study how different environmental and atmospheric conditions could threaten the sustainability of golf course maintenance for future generations. Meghna Mazumdar, First Tee — Connecticut Boston College Scoring a 1430 on her SATs while achieving a 4.12 cumulative GPA, Meghna will study Business Economics at Boston College in the fall. Her passion for investing in the stock market started at a young age which was featured on the Today Show when she was 13. Since 2011, her investment portfolio performance has consistently beat the S&P 500 index and she donates part of her investment gains to various charities and a First Tee — Connecticut Scholarship. Her love for investing and golf collided in 2016 when she was selected as winner of the Wells Fargo Succeeding Together contest, earning her the opportunity to play with PGA TOUR player Rory McIlroy in Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am. Meghna is a 13-year participant at First Tee — Connecticut and her love of the game led her to be the founder of her high school’s first girl’s golf team. She was also recently elected as one of eight people from across the nation to serve on the First Tee’s Participant Advisory Council. Benjamin Nganga, First Tee — Tennessee University of Indiana Benjamin’s excellent drive to succeed in the classroom has achieved him a 4.46 cumulative GPA earning him the prestigious Fry Scholarship to attend the University of Indiana Kelly Business School. Benjamin’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Kenya and could not be prouder of Benjamin becoming the first person in their family to attend college, with sights on a double major in Finance and Computer Science. Benjamin’s hard work was not limited to the classroom, as the seven-year First Tee — Tennessee participant was his high school golf team’s captain and in 2019 was named first team All-Metro. One of his future passions is to develop a non-profit that helps with the expenses of youth sports. Kaleb Palm, First Tee — Central Florida Florida Atlantic University Kaleb is a six-year participant at First Tee — Central Florida whose passion and drive has helped him earn selection into many of First Tee’s national mentoring and empowerment events.  Kaleb has earned a cumulative 4.69 GPA and PGA TOUR Champions player, Skip Kendall, says that “Kaleb has always been very positive and never lets adversity get in his way.” The son of a pastor, Kaleb uses what any adverse experience has taught him to help in many community outreach programs, such as helping the local food pantry in feeding less fortunate families. Borina Sutikto, First Tee — Silicon Valley Santa Clara University With plans already in place to study Accounting & Information Systems while playing golf at Santa Clara University, Borina is passionate about the game both on and off the course. Earning both Junior Golf Association of Northern California Player of the Year honors along with the Girls Low Scoring Average Champion, Borina’s golf skill and love for the game is second to none. The trait that separates her from the pack is her passion to grow the game by helping others. She is a member of the Women’s Nine Hole Golf Association, an organization that helps promote the game of golf and inspire more women to play it. Having earned a 4.25 GPA, the nine-year participant at First Tee — Silicon Valley gives back to the younger participants as a junior coach and mentor.
First Tee College Scholarship Program is made possible by donors and corporate partners who stand behind the program and First Tee’s mission, including Astros Golf Foundation, Peter A. Bonanni Scholarship Fund, Chevron Corporation, A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, Timothy W. Finchem Scholarship Fund, Paul and Ruth Flowers, Morrell Studios, Charles Schwab, TruGreen, Edward and Lisa Vaughan and Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund.

Lilian Davey: Faces of First Tee, April 2021

Lilian DaveyHi, I am Lilian Davey. I am 13 years old and have been playing with the First Tee program for 3 years. I’ve always had an eye for golf; it was something I could just sit and watch and never get bored of. Before golf, and still till this day, I’ve had a passion for different types of martial arts. I started doing different types of martial arts when I was 6 years old, but right now I practice Okinawan karate, boxing and I’m a brown belt. Aside from sports, I love learning different languages. I am fluent in French and American Sign Language. I’m currently learning Spanish, French Sign Language, German, and Latin. I go to Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans which is a French school, and is how I learned French. Faces of the First Tee portraits: New Orleans Snapshots by Andrew J. Cohoon

Empowering Youth Through Golf

Golf is a metaphor for life – full of unexpected challenges, and how we choose to respond defines who we are. As the kids and teens in our programs know, success is not defined by how well we play the game.  It’s not about the score at the end of a round, or whether they won the tournament. It’s about the journey. What we learn along the way. And what we do with that learning makes all the difference. What makes First Tee different from other youth development organizations is how we do our work: through golf. By seamlessly integrating the game of golf with a life skills curriculum, we create active learning experiences that build inner strength, self-confidence, and resilience that kids can carry to everything they do While participating in First Tee, 82% of the youth in our programs felt more confident with their social skills and 73% reported feeling more confident in their academic ability. “I am grateful for the First Tee program and the impact it has had on my life. I have learned that golf is much more than a game, much more than just swinging a club, and carries with it life lessons that I will draw from for the rest of my life. The program has provided me with opportunities to play matches and tournaments that not only improved my game but provided lasting friendships with the golf families and coaches over the years. The program has provided me with a safe place to be a lifetime student of the game. There will always be something to learn, something to change, something to improve, (whether it’s a part of my golf game or a non-golf, real life situation) and First Tee ties them all together in a pretty bow, and helps me understand the connection.” – Emily Knox, First Tee — Tri Valley Experiences are our greatest teacher. We believe in developing the ones that are just as fun as they are meaningful, where kids feel excited to grow, safe to fail, and better equipped for whatever comes their way next. Our trained coaches create safe, supportive and empowering environments to help our participants prepare for life ahead, including friendships, school, college and even their careers. Whether a child’s goal is to be a lawyer, a teacher, an astrophysicist, a musician, or a professional golfer, kids become a better version of themselves when they have the space to be who they are, surrounded by passionate people who guide them to see what they are capable of. If anyone you know thinks that golf isn’t for them, invite them to try it the First Tee way.

William Smothers: Faces of First Tee, March 2021

Portrait of William SmothersHola! My name is William Smothers, and I am 11 years young. I am the youngest of five children and a 5th grader at the International School of Louisiana – Westbank. I am a Birdie participant of First Tee. I have a ton of different interests and hobbies outside of golf. I like to build robots, watch Anime Youtube episodes, and play basketball with my neighborhood friends. Also, I love traveling with my family. However, my passion is cooking. I plan to one day turn that passion into a career by becoming a celebrity chef like Gordon Ramsay. I am entering my 3rd year as a First Tee participant. I have enjoyed every year and I am excited about continuing my participation in the program. The First Tee has taught me so much, and I appreciate every lesson taught through the program’s 9 Core Values. Of the 9 Core Values, I believe perseverance will help push me to a great chef. Perseverance teaches me to never give up no matter how tough something gets. Confidence is another core value that will help move me forward because I have enough confidence in my passion for cooking to keep going even if people doubt my skills or abilities. I do aspire to one day be a professional golfer like Mr. Charlie Sifford. If I continue to work hard, focus, and remain humble, I can achieve both: a professional golfer and celebrity chef. Faces of the First Tee portraits: New Orleans Snapshots by Andrew J. Cohoon

First Tee Alumni Compete on the APGA Tour

We believe that golf provides a powerful vehicle to help kids build inner strength and life enhancing skills they can take to everything they do. Joseph Dent, Marcellus Dillard and Joey Stills are First Tee alumni using these life lessons as they compete on the APGA Tour, a launching pad for African Americans and minority golfers to compete and make their way to the PGA TOUR. The three alumni shared their experiences through First Tee and how it’s empowered them to develop their character as they pursue their goals.

Cataleya Panagoulopoulos: Faces of First Tee, February 2021

Cataleya Panagoulopoulos, Faces of First Tee portrait 2021Hi! I am Cataleya Panagoulopoulos, a 8 year old third grader at Audubon Charter School. I have a younger brother that drives me up the wall, ugh!! I have a very active life, as I love to dance, sing, take violin, play golf and act in my school play each semester. I am creative and love all types of art, but normally don’t really like sports. I don’t really do all that running around. I like things that require planning and strategy. Thats why I like to play board games with my dad, especially when I beat him. I play the game and look at the rules to find loopholes and a way to win. It takes careful thought and skill. That’s why I like golf, because it’s just like that. I like that it involves strategy, skill, and perseverance in order to succeed. Just like the science experiments I do at STEM camp, to get an experiment to work, you have to prepare and plan for what you’re doing, and make sure you follow the steps and do it right or it won’t work. As I have gotten to attend First Tee, the instructors have been teaching us how to play, and in the process have been teaching us about the Core Values that are important for success, not only in golf but in life too! The Nine Core values are honesty, integrity, confidence, courtesy, respect, responsibility, judgement, sportsmanship, and perseverance. I have been learning, and the more I practice and play, the better I have become lining up my shots and getting my drives closer to the hole each time. While I have a long, long way to go, I know that with practice, I will be able to succeed. While all the Core Values are important, for me the ones that I think about most are Confidence and Perseverance, because of all the ways they extend beyond golf. Sometimes, when I am getting ready to act out a new play or play a new song on my violin in front of people, I get a little nervous and worried about messing up in front of all those people. But then I remember all the work I have done practicing and working through the difficult parts, memorizing the lines or notes and their order, even when I get frustrated after messing up. By persevering and continuing to practice and work, I know my lines. Knowing my lines, it gives me confidence that I will be able to do it right in front of the audience. And with confidence, I can perform at my best! Faces of the First Tee portraits: New Orleans Snapshots by Andrew J. Cohoon

Adhrit Paragi: Faces of First Tee January 2021

Adhrit Paragi, Faces of First Tee January 2021 My name is Adhrit Paragi. I enjoy building Lego structures. Currently, I am building Ninjago City with Legos. I also enjoy playing with Lego coding projects. I am a PLAYER level participant in First Tee — Greater New Orleans program. The nine core values have instilled in me confidence and responsibility above all. The coaches at First Tee have encouraged me to think about the 9 core values and what they mean in everyday life – which I try to carry forward into everyday life. I like playing cricket in my backyard and that interest led me to explore golf. First Tee Summer Camps are the best because I like the games, field trips, swimming pool, golf, baseball games. I love spending time with my family. I am looking forward to baking with my family for the holidays and welcoming the New Year 2021. Faces of the First Tee portraits: New Orleans Snapshots by Andrew J. Cohoon

Ashley Biehl: Faces of First Tee December 2020

Ashley BiehlHi! My name is Ashley Biehl, and I am 11 years old. I am the youngest of four children and a 6th grader at St. Angela Merici. My hobbies are baking, cooking, writing, photography, sewing, and playing golf. I am a birdie participant in the First Tee of Greater New Orleans. The First Tee has taught me so many different things. One of these things that they have taught me is the importance of the 9 core values. These 9 core values are honesty, integrity, confidence, courtesy, respect, responsibility, judgement, sportsmanship, and perseverance. My favorite core value is perseverance. This core value has taught me to never give up, even when you have a tough challenge you have to face. One tough challenge I have had to face is being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes has been a struggle, but with all the support I have, I know that I am unstoppable! Even though Type 1 Diabetes has its disadvantages, I have learned a lot from my experience with it. Something I have learned with my experience with Type 1 Diabetes is to never give up. Persevering can be hard, especially when you don’t know what to do when you are facing obstacles in your life. Type 1 Diabetes has been a very hard obstacle because I have to check my blood sugar, give myself insulin, and watch what I eat every day. I know I have the support from my friends and family to overcome this challenge. I am fearless! Type 1 Diabetes has also given me a lot of opportunity to do things that I may not have been able to do before. I have been able to speak to my entire school about my experiences with Type 1 Diabetes and what it is in order to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). I have also been able to talk to U.S. House of Representatives Minority Whip, Steve Scalise’s associate to bring awareness about diabetes for federal funding and the benefits of the JDRF’s research. I was in the top ten for raising money for the JDRF One Walk this year and last year. All these experiences have shown me that I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it and that having Type 1 Diabetes can’t stop me from becoming the person I want to be or doing the things I want to do. I am limitless! The First Tee, the game of golf, and my experience with Type 1 Diabetes have all shown me to persevere through my challenges. Playing the game of golf shows me that some things are unpredictable, just like diabetes can be. Each of these things has shown me that I am limitless, fearless, and unstoppable. Faces of the First Tee portraits: New Orleans Snapshots by Andrew J. Cohoon

Brant W. R. Walterman: Faces of the First Tee November 2020

Brant J. R. Walterman portrait by Andrew J CohoonHi!  My name is Brant W. R. Walterman.  I’m eleven years old and in fifth grade.  I started playing golf with First Tee when I was six, and it is the only sport I’ve ever really enjoyed.  So far, the driving range is my favorite activity.  I’m super tall, so that helps me hit the ball really far.  Golf has helped me learn to keep trying when I get frustrated and to concentrate on my goals.  I love getting to hang out with my First Tee friends every Saturday on the golf course. When I grow up, I want to be an Astrophysicist and a Composer.  I’ve been fascinated by space since I can remember.  I love to stay up late and use my telescope to look at the stars.   Hopefully, someday, I’ll get to travel somewhere with less light pollution so that I can see the sky as clearly as it appears in a planetarium.  I also love music.  I started begging to play piano after I saw one at my great-grandma’s house when I was two.  I’ve studied piano since I was three and have been composing my own music since I was eight.  For the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to perform pieces I’ve written at my recitals, and once, I even took over a piano in a coffee shop.  They gave me free cookies for playing them my song.  Someday, I hope to write amazing music like my favorite composers, Beethoven and John Williams. Faces of the First Tee portraits: New Orleans Snapshots by Andrew J. Cohoon