At the Course at Yale on Monday, July 16, the driving range is primarily occupied by New Haven middle-schoolers swinging their clubs under the direction of Yale golf pro Camile Collier and volunteers from First Tee of Connecticut -- The New Haven-Yale University Golf Squad is a First Tee program that the Yale African-American Affinity group (YAAA) has been voluntarily helping to run since 2008. First Tee volunteer Jim Burns takes from his pocket a worn but legible list of words: courtesy, honesty, integrity, confidence, responsibility, judgment, respect, perseverance and sportsmanship. “I keep this list of the noble pillars of golf in my pocket," says Burns, "so I can show the students at the appropriate times on the range or on the green. But I take a peek at them from time to time for myself on and off the golf course."
"What's great about the program," adds Renee Reed, senior administrative assistant in Judaic Studies, YAAA member and a golf program core volunteer, "Is that what's being shared with the youth through the love and rigor of golf are lessons about how to live life."
Founded by Yale student Christine Nguyen ’09, the “Squad” has been bringing free golf lessons to area youth for five years now. First Tee and YAAA have not only collaborated, but they have also developed a partnership with New Haven's Saint Martin de Porres Academy, which has brought an additional six students to the squad. Longtime supporters are Yale Diversity and Inclusion, New Haven and State Affairs and Peter Pulaski, director of Yale’s golf course. Other core YAAA volunteers are Cherice Dykes, assistant administrator, Human Resources manager, School of Medicine; Wendy Hall, strategic procurement professional; and John Mayes, associate vice president and chief procurement officer and president of the YAAA.
What began in 2007 as a 7-week meeting cycle in the summers has evolved into 24 weeks of lessons and practice from April to October. The “squads” participate as a group during the course of the program, developing their skills at the “Birdie” (beginner) level.
Rawlins, a member of YAAA who coordinates the volunteers with Reed and is father to one of the students, wants to spread the word about the group: "We would love more families in the New Haven community to get to know the group and bring their children even if they aren't budding golf enthusiasts. Hang around with us for a little while and they'll catch the fever."
One student who seems to have been born with the fever is Kiara Lavache (photo below). She's been playing with First Tee (and her Dad) since she's been seven and this is her second year with the Yale program. "It makes me a better golfer and I learn life skills," says Lavache. "Plus I get to see my friends."
If you are interested in getting your child on the golf course, please note that enrollment is limited and preference is given to residents of the Dixwell/Newhallville Neighborhoods. Contact Renee Reed at email@example.com or 203-432-0843.