The game of golf is all around us. It's physically in nearby neighborhoods to most of America including here in Michigan's Great Southwest, and it's televised into our homes seemingly every day. To some, it's just that -- a game. To a number of young people in our region however, it's a chance to undertake educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values, and promote future potential thanks to the First Tee of Benton Harbor. This week, four such young people will gain substantial benefit from First Tee programming thanks to collegiate scholarships coming their way.
Each year the First Tee of Benton Harbor awards scholarships to selected senior chapter participants to be used for their college endeavors. This year Mason Dirlam, the communications intern at The First Tee of Benton Harbor, says the chapter will be awarding scholarships to Cailey Rooker, Davis Longyear, Sam Ondrias, and Grace Ondrias. Additionally, the Volunteer of the Year award will be presented to Geri Stober.
Cailey Rooker attends St. Joseph High School, and has been a standout athlete for the Bears. She is on her way to Valparaiso University after she graduates from Saint Joe, and says, “I'll be studying Health Sciences through their PA program and will also participate on the women's golf team.” Cailey has been an active participant in The First Tee for the last 10 years, and tells us, “I've been a participant of The First Tee since I was eight years old." She notes, “I joined the program when the chapter was located in a school building in Benton Harbor which was used for both The First Tee and The Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor.”
In 2017, Cailey participated in The Pure Insurance Pro-Am held at Pebble Beach, and says, “My favorite memory at The First Tee was participating in the Pure Insurance Championship," adding, "I learned a lot from my professional Colin Montgomerie and made several friends from across the country.”
Sam Ondrias is a senior at St. Joe, and has been an avid golfer for the Bears. His post-graduation plans are to attend Lake Michigan College, where he says, "After two years, I will transfer to a school for graphic design.” He tells us, “I have been involved with The First Tee for as long as I can remember. I believe I joined the program when I was 9 years old.”
When Sam was asked to give advice to younger participants working towards this scholarship, he said, “It’s not about the way you answer their questions on the paper, it is more about what you have done to help your community and The First Tee.”
Grace Ondrias is also a senior at St. Joe and has been an active member of the Lady Bears golf team her entire high school career. She plans to attend Lake Michigan College after graduation to complete her general education and says, "I will then transfer to Central Michigan University to complete my academics.”
Grace has been a participant at The First Tee since she was nine years old and has some advice for others, saying, "My advice for younger participants thinking about applying for these scholarships is to just simply apply. It doesn’t hurt you to apply, and being selected for one of the scholarships will help a lot with college plans.”
Grace’s favorite memories at The First Tee involved the summer program play nights on Wednesdays and Thursdays at Harbor Shores, saying, "I would go out with a group of girls and every time it wouldn’t necessarily be about the golf, but more about the friendships being built.”
Davis Longyear was also selected to receive a scholarship. He is a senior at Lakeshore High school where he has played golf competitively for years. His post-graduation plans also include golf, as he says, “I am going to attend Sienna Heights University to play on the men’s golf team as well as major in Business Administration.”
Davis has been in The First Tee program for seven years and his favorite memory is playing alongside Senior PGA tour players at the Pure Insurance Championship hosted at Pebble Beach. He says, “I am very grateful to receive this scholarship,” adding, “I won’t have to worry as much about earning money to pay for college, and I will have more time to focus on academics and golf.”
The First Tee of Benton Harbor’s 2019 Volunteer of the Year is Geri Stober, who has been volunteering for the programs since 2013. Geri says, “I love to volunteer. Once I saw what a positive, supportive, and encouraging program The First Tee is, I wanted to be a part of it.” She adds, “I was blown away by the fact that these kids are not only taught golf, but they are also taught how to be a good sport, how to be respectful, and numerous other manners that many kids aren’t taught.”
When Stober was asked for advice to potential volunteers, she offered, “First I would tell them my experience with the program and how wonderful it has been. Then I would tell them to reach out to friendly staff; they’re always very helpful and appreciative of volunteers.”
The First Tee of Benton Harbor scholarship dinner will be held this Thursday, May 16th at the Inn at Harbor Shores. The scholarship winners along with the Volunteer of the Year will be honored that night. Tickets and information about the night can be found on the website, or you can call The First Tee of Benton Harbor’s office at 927-4653.
The First Tee of Benton Harbor is a chapter of The First Tee, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit youth development organization. Chartered in 2004 with programming beginning in 2005, the mission of The First Tee of Benton Harbor is to positively impact the lives of local youth by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values, and promote future potential through the game of golf.
The First Tee of Benton Harbor positively impacts young people from throughout Michigan’s Great Southwest. For more information, volunteering opportunities or to donate, you can visit online at www.thefirstteebentonharbor.org, call 269.927.4653 or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.