OAKLAND -- With most sports lessons, the point is to become good at the game.
But at First Tee of Oakland, it's not about getting a hole in one, it's about children learning valuable life skills like confidence, integrity and responsibility -- from the first day a club is put in their hands.
"We're teaching them respect for others, themselves and their surroundings," said Executive Director April Kenyon.
First Tee of Oakland brings children from schools across the city for after-school programming at various golf courses, where volunteer and paid coaches teach them golf integrated with lesson plans that develop values such as honesty, sportsmanship and perseverance.
"It's an amazing program that really provides opportunities for young people," Kenyon said.
The organization reaches hundreds of children each year, mostly from schools in Oakland known for low income levels. Almost all of the children receive partial or full scholarships, and Kenyon estimates that only 5 percent are Caucasian.
"Our goal in 2014 is to see 650 unique participants," she said, adding that they are already around 330.
For sessions in the spring, summer and fall, children ages 7-17 are bussed from their schools, mostly Oakland public schools, and brought to one of three golf courses, the Montclair Country Club, Lake Chabot Golf Course and Metropolitan Golf Links. Either volunteer or paid coaches teach the students the rudiments of the game as a starting point for lessons about traits such as respect and sportsmanship. The first day starts with handshakes and eye contact, and classes move on from there over an eight-week session.
Money to support the programming comes from grants and fundraising. On April 28, First Tee of Oakland is hosting a sold-out event, a women's nine-hole tourney, at the Sequoyah Country Club. The event will begin with golf clinics taught by touring pro Lizette Salas and end with a raffle, lunch and auction. First Tee students will also be there to talk about what the classes mean to them. The event also honors the late Frances Cary-Whyte, who won the Sequoyah Country Club championship every decade for six decades. The Bonita Garden Club is also giving a grant to First Tee of Oakland in Cary-Whyte's name.
The nonprofit First Tee of Oakland was founded in 2004 and became affiliated with the national First Tee organization in 2008, although all funding is local. A recent $20,000 grant from the Olympic Club Foundation, a San Francisco-based philanthropic organization, meant they could buy enough clubs that each student could have their own for the term of the lesson, something Kenyon said has made a big difference.
"The kids now feel like it's something that belongs to them, and they take care of them," she said.
Another major expense for the organization is getting the students to the courses. Kenyon estimates that hiring buses to take students from the approximately 20 schools that First Tee of Oakland is involved with costs more than $75,000 each year.
"That's a huge piece of our budget," she said.
But Kenyon said that even though they're running out of space and time, they want to find a way to take more students -- and that means more volunteers.
"We have about 60 volunteers; we need 60 more," she said.
First Tee volunteers don't need any golfing background, but they are asked to make a commitment of a few hours each week and to learn the lesson plans that buttress the life skills lessons the children are taught.
And there's a reward for volunteers -- although it's not monetary. For Kenyon, the most meaningful thing is seeing the children's personal growth.
"I could cry," she said. "It's an amazing experience. It's so beautiful to see the transformation."