First Tee program teaches children valuable life skills

MANISTEE — There are many important life lessons that children can learn from participating in athletics.

First Tee Golf program instructor Jeff Jankowski shows students in the program the proper way to make a chip shot. The First Tee program combines golf and life skills and is sponsored the Manistee Elks Lodge No. 250.

First Tee Golf program instructor Jeff Jankowski shows students in the program the proper way to make a chip shot. The First Tee program combines golf and life skills and is sponsored the Manistee Elks Lodge No. 250.

One program that focuses on those skills is the First Tee Golf Education program that is sponsored by the Manistee Elks Lodge No. 250. It is a program that touches on learning about the game of golf, but just as importantly it teaches skills that benefit the kids all their life.

Elks member/golf professional Jeff Jankowski has coordinated the local program for the past four years and said he can see the difference it makes in the children.

“What the First Tee tries to do is teach the kids life skills,” said Jankowski. “Today we are working on confidence and we give them examples of how it relates to golf and things such as if you practice you are going to get better. We also tell them them if they have confidence they will be able to perform better.”

Jankowski said the golf isn’t incidental, but it really is the draw to get the kids there to hear the more important message that goes with the program. He said the impact they are having with the program shows in the number of kids returning every year.

“The good part is we have several kids this year who have been here all four years,” said Jankowski. “With some of them the golf ability has gotten better, but they are also doing better with the etiquette, confidence, rules of the game and things like that.”

Derric Carey concentrates on lining up his putt as fellow First Tee students Trevor Haag and Noah Traviss await their turn. All of them are under the watchful eye of teacher Jerry Piecyznski in the background.

Derric Carey concentrates on lining up his putt as fellow First Tee students Trevor Haag and Noah Traviss await their turn. All of them are under the watchful eye of teacher Jerry Piecyznski in the background.

First Tee is sponsored by grants that are obtained by the local Elks Club and members from the local club volunteer to assist with the instruction of the program.

“Besides myself, we have Elks members Fred Niles and Jerry Pieczynski helping out as well as Bob Picardat who is a good friend of mine and member at the Manistee Golf and Country Club,” said Jankowski. “The Elks National Foundation was able to get three grants this year and the total was $5,500, which we turn into First Tee of Northern Michigan and they pay out the various funds for the program.”

He said those costs are for a variety of things such as First Tee training he had to attend to teach the course, the purchase of clubs, golf balls and all the things they use. Jankowski also praised the Manistee Golf and Country Club for all their assistance in making the program possible.

“They don’t really charge anything for using the range or the course,” he said. “Between them and the Elks it wouldn’t be possible to run this program without them.”

The First Tee program is designed for children age 7 to 16 years of age. The local group is more in the 8-14 year age group. In Manistee they have a total of 14 kids taking part this year for two sessions.

Centra Wellness SafeNet worker Scott Solberg recommends to the Elks the children

Trevor Haag gets down low to check how he feels the break will take place on his putt. A total of 14 children are taking part in the First Tee program this year. This if the fourth year that the program has been offered by the Elks Lodge in Manistee.

Trevor Haag gets down low to check how he feels the break will take place on his putt. A total of 14 children are taking part in the First Tee program this year. This if the fourth year that the program has been offered by the Elks Lodge in Manistee.

who take part in the program. It is a mixture of at-risk children and others he feels would be good for the program.

“It helps to have a mixture of kids in the program like that,” said Jankowski. “One of the things that is big on the First Tee program is ‘modeling’ whether it is behavior, hitting golf shots or following the rules. That is where the coaches come in to show them the proper behavior. They get to learn five or six important things while they are still having fun.”

He said some of that is accomplished by doing activities where they pick up the skills, but remain engaged.

“We have the two groups and one is made up of the kids who have been in the program, so they know some of the things, but the other session is all first-year kids,” said Jankowski.

Solberg said his association with the local First Tee program began in the initial year.

“(Elks member) George Ott who also worked with me at Centra Wellness came to me and said they had this program that would work with kids using golf,” said Solberg. “It really has been great for the kids who we have had in it. Some are SafeNet kids and some aren’t, and it doesn’t really matter. They really learn things and gain confidence through the game of golf.”

Solberg said the adults who volunteer for the program have been great in serving as role models for the kids.

“It’s been a great partnership all the way around with Centra Wellness, Manistee Area Public Schools, who I work with, and the Elks Lodge,” said Solberg. “It also gives me time to work with some of these kids in the summer months, so they don’t fall back and you have that gap. It’s been just wonderful.”

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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