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Youth golf program helps instill integrity

As a foster child, life hasn’t been easy for 17-year old Ray Little. But after his judge sent him to The First Tee Miami, a golf program that incorporates life values and character development, he stopped smoking, got a job, learned to play golf and found a handful of people to look up to.

“This has helped me prevail and see that I can succeed,” said Little from Miami Lakes. “Now I have high standards for myself and I can’t fail.”

The First Tee Miami officially opened its doors about 12 years ago, but teaching children to play golf was Charlie DeLucca Jr.’s mission since the early 70s, when there were no golf programs available for kids.

DeLucca Jr. began teaching a small group of children and has since seen his dream become a reality as thousands of children in South Florida, including those that can’t afford lessons, have learned to play golf through The First Tee Miami.

In addition to playing the sport, DeLucca Jr. always envisioned a place where the kids could learn, do their homework and receive tutoring. That place became reality on Saturday as The First Tee Miami opened its first learning center, a building worth nearly $2 million, designed for educational space and state-of-the-art golf teaching and practice facilities.

The building includes space for one-on-one tutoring, large classroom areas, computer stations with the latest Apple computers and a space for indoor golf. It offers educational help for children in grades K-12 and provides both aftercare and weekend help for students.

“It’s the support from our community,” said Charlie DeLucca III, executive director of The First Tee Miami, who held back tears as he spoke of the support he received to build the facility. “Being a great athlete and not getting an education leaves your hands tied.”

They have made it a priority to teach children core values, including responsibility, sportsmanship, perseverance and integrity.

Through sponsorships, partners and donations, the program is able to have a no-turn-away policy, as well as provide shirts, hats, gulf clubs and gloves to those that can’t afford them.

“It’s amazing to see that spirit, that benevolence and kindness,” said 16-year-old Leia Schwartz, who became part of the program after receiving free lessons. “It helps us because now we appreciate things more in life and it teaches us to spread kindness to the people around us.”

The DeLucca family has visited golf courses and schools in Miami Dade and Broward to spread the word. Next step is to expand the learning centers to Broward and other locations.

“This place is such a blessing for us because now we have a place where the kids can come and do their afterschool work,” said coach Larry Fair, who now has an indoor space to teach his students the core values. “We don’t have to let a kid be left behind because they can’t get tutoring. I wish I would’ve had that when I was young.”

To join call the Melreese Country Club at (305) 633-4583

1802 NW 37 Ave Miami, FL 33125