Knowledge Center

Banking on KC – Ann Spivak of First Tee Greater Kansas City

 

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Ann Spivak, the Executive Director of First Tee of Greater Kansas City. Welcome, Ann.

Ann Spivak:

Thank you for having me, Kelly.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us a little bit about the First Tee program. I know it teaches more than golf skills. It also teaches life skills. Can you expand on that for us?

Ann Spivak:

Certainly. We teach nine core values including, judgment, honesty, sportsmanship, integrity, and perseverance. And as most golfers know, golf is the perfect tool for youth development. It requires constant self-improvement for kids. So we really feel like it's a really strong tool for us.

Kelly Scanlon:

Give us some examples of why golf is perfect for that. What situations do you encounter on the golf course that help youth develop? You mentioned golf is a game where you constantly have to improve your game, but what else?

Ann Spivak:

Well, honesty comes to mind right away when you're playing a game and you're going to foursome with other kids. So being honest about the play, using good judgment, trusting other people to help you, working with our coaches and our mentors on that character development, and really weaving in these values and these life skills into our curriculum so that everyday kids, yes, they are learning a wonderful skill out there, but they're also learning how to be really great people.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about how First Tee got started. I believe Kansas City legend Tom Watson played a role early on.

Ann Spivak:

Yes, he did. Back in the late 80s, a man named Al Hoffman, who was a good friend of Tom's, started the Junior Golf Foundation. They were all golfers, and they recognized how they could help youth through golf. It was the perfect tool to use. They really wanted to make a long-term impact on kids' lives and give them a chance to learn this great sport that they loved that would last them a lifetime.

Tom Watson joined the advisory board of that organization in the late 80s, and really just was so impressed with what we were doing here in Kansas City. So he went to the PGA, and he brought the head of the PGA to Kansas City to see what we were doing with kids here. The PGA said, "We need this all over our country." They went back to Florida, and they launched First Tee nationwide. A few years later, we joined First Tee. We do business as First Tee today. And really, it has grown since then, thanks to Tom and to our founders.

Kelly Scanlon:

So it had its roots in Kansas City. And since starting the program here in Kansas City, and then growing it nationwide, talk to us a little bit about its current geographic footprint. How many cities is it in? How many youths does it serve?

Ann Spivak:

Well, we are the First Tee Greater Kansas City, so we cover the seven-county area. We have anywhere from seven to nine locations, depending if it's spring or summer or fall programming. And then we are in the schools on both sides of the state line, in the school PE classes. KC MO schools do not offer golf. So this year, for the first time in the history of KC MO schools, we have helped Central High School and Central Middle launch the first golf program for kids.

It is really great to see those kids down at our base camp, we call it. We're down at Swope Park at the Heart of America Golf Course, where we have our own three-hole golf course that was built and funded by Tom Watson and others in our community and the City of Kansas City. There is also a First Tee in Wichita and in Manhattan and Topeka. So I feel like we have a pretty good representation in Kansas for First Tee.

Kelly Scanlon:

Nationally, how big is the program?

Ann Spivak:

We have 150 locations all over the country. I think another larger chapter close to us would be St. Louis. It's similar to Kansas City as far as the footprint for a larger metro area. First Tee is nationally a very strong organization. They partner with the PGA, with the Masters. We are under those umbrellas, so we get a lot of support nationally. If you're a golfer and if you're watching golf on TV, any of the PGA events or tournaments or the Masters, you'll see our great First Tee commercials and you'll see our kids out there.

Kelly Scanlon:

And you're reaching hundreds of thousands of kids each year, aren't you?

Ann Spivak:

Yes, we are. In Kansas City alone, this year we will reach 12,100 kids with our life skills and our golf skill program. We keep growing. And nationally, First Tee reaches 3.4 million kids, helping them, whether it's in a classroom, or at PE, or out on the golf course, really helping make an impact on their lives.

Kelly Scanlon:

Sure. So 150 locations, 3.4 million youth are impacted. A really strong program here in Kansas City. And 12,000 children that you are working with within all your different locations and through the schools.

Let's talk then specifically about the details of the program. You've referenced that it's in the schools. You've referenced golf courses. Where are these lessons taught? How long is the program? Walk us through the particulars there.

Ann Spivak:

Oh, sure. First Tee is open to any child ages seven up to 18. We have our programming in the spring, the summer, and in the fall, out on the golf courses. Our home base, as I mentioned, is in Swope Park at the Heart of America Golf Course. We also have a strong program at Sunflower Hills in Wyandotte County, out south at Ironhorse in Leawood. We go as far as Twin Oaks in Eudora. And then we're up at Shoal and Hodge in the Northland. So really try to have our footprint everywhere so families have an option close to home, and it's easy for them to get their kids to First Tee and back.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you recruit through the schools, but the actual program is taught on the golf courses that you partner with?

Ann Spivak:

We train the PE teacher to actually implement First Tee curriculum in the school. So if you are a kid and you are in third grade and you're in PE class, you might play basketball one week, the next week you're doing gymnastics, and the next week you actually are using plastic equipment and doing target practice. The little ones, a lot of motor skills. And then the older kids getting the word out. Also, it's just that introduction to golf in the PE class, in the gymnasium, and then getting them excited. Letting their parents know. And yes, getting them eventually, "Hey, come on out and try First Tee in the summer, spring and fall, out here on the golf course and really have some fun."

Kelly Scanlon:

Okay. So it's a dual program. It's in the schools incorporated into the PE classes, and also, there is a formal program through First Tee that actually takes place on the golf courses. You mentioned the plastic equipment and so forth. What all does First Tee provide for the participating schools?

Ann Spivak:

We provide everything a child needs to learn the game. You can just come to First Tee. We have a fun t-shirt for First Tee for you to wear. We have all the equipment you need. It's all provided. You don't have to have your own golf clubs. First Tee is very affordable. It's about $85 for a session of seven classes. We never turn away a child due to need. So over 80% of our kids come to First Tee for just $5, because we really want to turn our attention to those kids who need us the most in our community.

Kelly Scanlon:

Sure. So you have scholarship programs, it sounds like?

Ann Spivak:

Yes, we also have college scholarships. So our goal is just to really have that long term impact on a child. They can start at age seven. We guide them and nurture them and mentor them through those formative years of their lives, and then we can launch them into adulthood with a college scholarship.

Kelly Scanlon:

How does that work? I assume there's an application process.

Ann Spivak:

Yes. We have two different scholarships on our website. Parents can get all those details and apply when their children are seniors in high school.

Kelly Scanlon:

Aside from the schools, and aside from obviously the donors, the people who fund the scholarships that you were just describing, do you have other community partners who work with you at First Tee?

Ann Spivak:

We do. I mentioned that we are working with some KC MO schools in a different way, where we're actually trying to start golf teams. We work with the Boys & Girls Clubs. They come out twice a week during the summer and spring to various golf courses. WIN, the Women Intersport Network, we provide an introduction to golf to those young girls. We also partner with Harris Park. I do want to mention Harris Park in particular.

Harris Park is in our urban core. Chris Harris, who is a board member at First Tee, he was a basketball player in college and professionally. He came back to his hometown, and he went into the neighborhood where he grew up and he bought every home on both sides of the block and built Harris Park. There is a three-hole golf course right there for the kids in the neighborhood. If you haven't been down to Harris Park yet, you can find it on YouTube. ESPN has done some great videos about Mr. Harris. It is a shining example of First Tee partnering to bring that programming to those children in that neighborhood.

Kelly Scanlon:

Along those lines, let's talk about decades' worth of impact. Can you talk with us about some of it?

Ann Spivak:

Certainly. Of course, when you talk about impact, you really want to talk about the children and the families who have benefited from our program over the years. That is what it's all about. I could talk about so many kids who've been through the program who come back and help and have summer jobs at First Tee or who have just had a successful life and credit a lot of that to what they learned over the years at First Tee.

I wanted to mention a young man named EJ. EJ Atkins is a sophomore in college in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. EJ started before age seven. I think his dad came down with EJ when EJ was four years old and wanted him to enroll in First Tee. I think our coaches said, "Whoa, he needs to be a little bit older." But he stuck around. I think he did start a little earlier than most kids.

I asked EJ the other day about how he's doing. We keep in touch with the family. He is one of our scholarship recipients, so he has a $5,000 scholarship all four years. He said, "Really, what has impacted him being in First Tee," and I love this quote, he said, "It helps me take pride in who I am." Again, he said, "It helped me take pride in who I am." I think that for a young man to be able to articulate that at age 18, really makes our hearts skip a beat.

We have a scholarship reception every year where we award our college scholarship. It's a lot of laughter and a lot of tears of joy, and it's what it's all about.

Kelly Scanlon:

Absolutely. You mentioned you have the event around the scholarship awards. You have several other annual events too. Talk to us about some of those.

Ann Spivak:

We have a large fundraiser. We are so lucky. It is our Tom Watson Day for Kids Golf Tournament. That is October 17th this year at Oakwood Country Club. Tom Watson obviously is our guest of honor. He plays a hole with every foursome. He puts on an incredible clinic before the shotgun start, and he speaks afterwards. Of course, anyone who has been in the same room with Tom, it's really fun to listen to him talk about his love for First Tee, as well as just a lot of good golf stories he has to share.

But when Tom Watson is out all over the country, all over the years, people come up to him and say, "Hey Tom, how do I get my kid into golf? What should I do?" And he says, "Send them to First Tee." Honestly, there could really be no greater compliment than that. We work very hard so our kids are successful and launch them into a successful life.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, you also have what's called the 100 Hole Challenge. What's that?

Ann Spivak:

Yes. That is kind of like for the younger men and women in our community who have that kind of stamina. That is actually October 10th. Each person commits to just raising about $250. We go out and we golf 100 holes. It takes all day, but they have a lot of fun. It's a three-par event. It's a lot of fun. They have a great time.

Kelly Scanlon:

It certainly would be something that would require some endurance though.

Ann Spivak:

Oh, definitely.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah, 100 holes; that is definitely a challenge.

You talk about serving 12,000 youth locally, over 3 million nationally. That takes a lot of coordination, a lot of work. Do you depend on volunteers? Do you have a large staff? Tell us about how you get all this accomplished.

Ann Spivak:

Right. Right. It's really a grassroots effort by a lot of people. We have an outstanding volunteer board of directors. Our board president is Scott Carrithers with Country Club Bank. They're very hands-on. They actually do a lot of the heavy lifting, whether it's helping us with our accounting work, or just actually going out and helping volunteer, helping our coaches out on the golf course, helping them with the kids, and then just the daily governance of the organization.

We have a program director, Tony Blake. I work with a great admin office manager, Lauren. And then we have two or three part-time people who help us. We have summer interns. And then, of course, we have dozens of coaches who volunteer their time. They're the ones out there with those kids every day. We try to treat our coaches right and help them, and applaud them, and honor them, all our volunteers.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you do rely heavily on volunteers? You have a small staff who are obviously very energetic and very dedicated, and you rely a lot on volunteers though. So for anyone who would like to get involved with First Tee, what are those opportunities for getting involved, getting engaged?

Ann Spivak:

Anyone can be a First Tee coach. We have a great curriculum. It just takes a few times really to catch on. We do need volunteer coaches constantly, so we'd love to add more to that pipeline of coaches. But we also have, as I mentioned, our board of directors. We have committees that help raise money, that help in marketing, finance committees, lots of different committee work that we need help with volunteers. We also, as we mentioned, we do the fundraisers. We have a couple of golf tournaments and we need volunteers to help those be successful as well. There are a lot of ways to plug into First Tee. We even have people who just come into the office once or twice a week and help us with some admin work.

Kelly Scanlon:

If someone's interested, the best way would be to go out to your website. And I believe there is a button or a tab on there for people who are interested in volunteering. And just to reach out to you through that, to the website; firstteekc.org, first, T-E-E, kc.org. You can reach out to the organization through that. The website also contains the telephone number.

Ann, you have been involved in the nonprofit world in various capacities for several years. There are many, many nonprofits and other organizations that work with people in the community, especially with children, to put them on route to being as successful as possible. Tell us about how First Tee fits into that ecosystem.

Ann Spivak:

In our community, there are just so many organizations and so many people helping kids. Some use music as a tool, like music education. Others use a different sport. Or maybe they do after-school tutoring, something like that. We use golf as our tool for that strong youth development. When we look at First Tee and where we fit in our community, we are just another organization that is really making that impact on children's lives. We provide a safe place to grow up. We provide mentors and coaches that guide these kids.

We also are doing this in an appropriate structure. The kids are putting away their devices and they're getting outside. Especially during COVID, Kelly. We were really a wonderful mental and physical safe haven for kids. They could get off the computers, get off their devices for that online learning, come on out to the golf course and just spend the afternoon safely, socially distant and participate in First Tee.

We are just very proud that we were able to help kids through this tough time in their lives. Now they're back out there improving their mental health, their physical health, their motor skills, their hand-eye coordination. Just another way we're making an impact on improving the lives of children in our community, and we're very proud to be a part of that in Kansas City.

Kelly Scanlon:

Ann, thank you so much to you, your team, to the advisory board, your community partners, and everyone that works so hard to make First Tee such as success. Thank you.

Ann Spivak:

Thank you so much, Kelly.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Anne Spivak for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Focusing on the development of our youth is critical to the sustainability of any successful community. Providing educational opportunities that promote positive character development equips the youth who participate in First Tee with self-confidence and inner strength, to take pride in who they are, skills they need, not only as youngsters, but throughout their lives.

Thank you to Tom Watson and the team of associates and volunteers at First Tee, including Country Club Bank's Scott Carrithers, President of the First Tee Board of Directors, who understand that investing in our youth pays generational dividends.

Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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