Humans of Pro Kids – Powerful Stories In Celebration of 25 Years

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“I live in the neighborhood. I knew about Pro Kids but had never been there. I was part of the STAR/PAL program and one day they said we were going on a field trip. I was thinking it would be to Legoland or something but they said that we were going to Pro Kids to play some golf. I was like ‘Are you serious?’I definitely didn’t want to go but as soon as I started swinging I was the first one to hit to back net on the driving range. I’ve been hooked ever since. If Pro Kids wasn’t here I’d jump the fence so I could still play golf. There’s no other place like it. My dad calls me ‘Tiger Melo’ and watches golf now that I play. I’m trying to get that scholarship so I work hard on my game. Last week Coach Mitch invited me to play on a big course and I was so excited and nervous that I couldn’t sleep the night before. In the morning my dad cooked me breakfast and gave me $20, my sister helped me pick out my clothes, and my brother gave me his jacket since it was cold in the morning. I got to Pro Kids early and Mr. Andrew (Pro Kids CEO) let me borrow his Callaway visor too. I looked so fresh and was ready to go. I played okay but I need to work on my driver. I want to be the best.” – Romelo, Pro Kids Member, Level 4

“My first day at Pro Kids I was wearing a SpongeBob backpack. I was in only in 3rd grade. Now I can’t believe I’ve been here for five years and I’m in middle school. Everyone here is my friend. The kids are my friends, the staff are my friends, the volunteers are my friends, my clubs are my friends, the course is my friend. But Coach Mitch is like the best person in my life. He is humble and super awesome. My first couple of years he helped me during his breaks and on his days off. Now I feel like a boss on the course. I played pretty good for my first tournament at Twin Oakes, I hit the range, practiced on the putting green, had this memorable shot on hole 16…my putting was trash, but I hit a super hard drive that went like 250 yards carried 210 and it rolled a lot. I got a par and it was one of the hardest holes on the course. You know we went to go eat Wings-N-Things and I celebrated with Romelo and Jacob afterwards. I’m happy, proud, and confident because of Pro Kids. My older brother is in college now and he misses Pro Kids. I know I’ll miss it too. I’ll definitely cry when I graduate high school because I won’t be here every day. But for now, I’m just thankful for Coach Mitch and everyone at Pro Kids.” Joshua, Pro Kids Member, Level 4

“When my siblings and I first joined Pro Kids, we refused to get out of the car. We thought golf was for men who wore funny socks, and we’d never actually seen anyone play before. When we stepped onto the grounds, there was a golf course and a tiny broken-down shack—but there were kids! My favorite memories of that time are simple ones, just hanging out with kids my age playing golf. I loved challenging my friends in chipping contests and betting sodas. Pro Kids completely changed my mind about golf, and it became my community. Not coming from much, I never thought I would play on the UCLA Women’s Golf team, graduate with a major and minor I enjoyed, and find some of the best friends I’d have forever. My experience propelled me in the direction of professional golf, but it hasn’t been a smooth road. I’ve had a lot of heartbreaks, but when you lose you learn, and I’ve had many opportunities to learn. I have so much appreciation for the game of golf. It has taught me about life and who I really am as a person. It has taken me around the world and given me opportunities I never knew existed. I can only hope my legacy has a fraction of the impact of the great people before me, like Ernie Wright, who have helped create opportunities for all of us Pro Kids.” – Maiya Tanaka, Pro Kids Alumni

“Learning golf was hard. I’ve been practicing at Pro Kids since I was six years old and became a member as soon as I could at seven. My dad signed me up and I’ve been focused on getting better ever since. It was pretty quiet around here my first day but after four years, I’ve met a lot of great coaches and think Pro Kids has a great system. You can learn golf outside on the course and get help with your homework inside. They teach you etiquette and help you become mentally and physically stronger. You have to remember your Pro Kids number to check-in so your memory gets better. It’s really fun to play in the big events, too. I played in the Women’s Tournament two years in a row. My group won two years ago and last year I played with Marty (Pro Kids Board Member) and she was the coolest. My favorite club is the sand wedge because I’m great with it. I’m also a hockey player. Hockey teaches you hand-eye coordination and balance like golf but its much colder and I’m a lot faster on ice. My favorite team is the Gulls and my favorite player is my dad. He’s the goalie on his team and he’s awesome. I really love golf and hockey and will definitely teach my little brother to play both. He can’t walk yet, but he already has a plastic club in his hands.”- Melanie, Pro Kids Member, Level 4

“I’m more confident after a year at CSU San Marcos than ever in my life. I’m still myself (still a shy soul), but now I ask a lot of questions. I go to office hours and stay on campus all day for tutoring when I need support. A lot of people majoring in computer science like to work alone. I prefer to be around people, but group projects have been a challenge. I don’t want anyone to feel like they aren’t included. My classmates have become my support system, a lot like Pro Kids was for me growing up. I learned integrityand teamwork at Pro Kids and it makes a lot of sense that I gravitated towards a great group of people to learn with. Most of my friends had computer science classes in high school. I didn’t so I feel behind, but my friends are lifting me up. I’ve found a home at CSU San Marcos. I’m happy with where my future is going and will start taking summer courses soon to get ahead for next year.”—Tiffany Green, Age 19, Pro Kids Scholar

“Our family has found a second home in City Heights at Pro Kids. Luciano and Miguel are Level 3 students and the attend the Academy daily. They often ask me to come back later when I show up to pick them up. Ms. Rachel proudly displays their assignments which cover topics from geography, math, history and even the stock market! At Pro Kids, my children befriend other children from all backgrounds, and they learn to play together, learn together, to compete in a friendly manner, to persevere, excel, and to embrace each new challenge. All of this (!) under the watchful eye of an excellent team of coaches, tutors, staff, and volunteers who are always around to encourage them in the game of golf and life.”- Lorenza Rivero, Pro Kids Parent

“A while back when there was a big change in the golf staff, I didn’t want anything to do with the new people. I had a bad attitude because I didn’t want Pro Kids to change. I quickly realized that approach wasn’t good for me or anyone else around me. I miss being younger, coming here to hang out and play golf with all my friends. We grew up together out here. I’m really missing my childhood now that I’m back as an intern. I have a lot more responsibility in my life now, I’m not a kid anymore. When I turned 20, it hit me hard that it was time to take on a new level of independence. Golf opened so many doors for me. This game has shown me I have more patience than I ever thought and given me a never-quit attitude. Pro Kids has been here though it all. I can’t tell you how many staff, volunteers and older PK members took me out on the course when I was little, now I feel lucky to do the same for current members like Josh, Hero, and Abdullahi. My dream is to study sports management, become a golf professional, and come back here to run the golf program so kids like me can succeed.” -Andres, Pro Kids Scholar, Age 20

“I’ve been involved with Pro Kids a long time, since 2001. When I think about this organization, I see every person involved—from volunteers, donors and the local golf community, people who make any kind of contribution—and I think if they stopped doing that, we’d be missing something. Everyone in this community is equally as valuable, we are all so interconnected. Relationships you form out on the course, I always remind the kids, those are connections you’ll have for life. It seems like it is in people’s DNA at Pro Kids to genuinely care about the kids. There is a certain level of tough love, but what is amazing is the way kids respond to it. They don’t resent it; they get it and try to do better. It is the “don’t just show up, step up” mentality. Talk to the parents about this place, you’ll hear what a savior it is to them. They can’t do it without Pro Kids. The humanity here is undeniable. I stand back and watch all that has been built and still shake my head in disbelief. This is the coolest thing ever and I’ll never stop asking “how can I help?”’- Rick Peters, Pro Kids volunteer, mentor, and advocate with Lynn, Level 6 Pro Kids member at the 2019 Ernie Wright Cup

“You can say I stumbled upon Pro Kids at 12 years old. I was just tagging along with my friends during my first day here and eventually found myself with a club in my hand. My swing was not good and I definitely missed the ball more than a few times. It didn’t matter. Pro Kids became a place for our group to hang out pretty much every day and stay off the streets. I became a member and about 9 months in I had my first hole in one. I still remember everything about it – Hole #2, back right pin location, with a borrowed US Kids wedge. I bought that club with my points the next day and I still have that ball. Pro Kids was definitely our spot. I was getting better at golf, my friends were there, and the support system was great. Pretty much all of the coaches served as a mentor in some way. They were easy to relate to, they took the time to support us on and off the course, and always helped steer us in the right direction. Fast forward four or five years and I was on the Monterey trip playing some of the best courses in the country with Said, Jacob, Peter, Kenneth, and Christina. An experience of a lifetime with lifelong friends. What a memory. In my new role, I definitely think about my time as a member and my coaches. Golf became my thing so I tried to practice as much as I could. When I was on the course or the driving range or the putting green, I was taught to always have a goal in mind and keep a positive attitude. It helped me remain committed and accountable when I was having fun with my friends, playing on my own, or during a lesson with the coaches. These are tips that I can pass on for sure. My daily goal now is to get better as an instructor, but I know firsthand the importance of simply being a great mentor to our members. I want them to benefit from everything that I did as a Pro Kid – direction, encouragement, and a place to hang with your friends when you need it most. I’m not sure if young Charlie would have predicted that I’d be coaching at Pro Kids so it’s a bit surreal that’s it come full circle. As long as the kids know that Coach Charlie is always here to have some fun and to support them in any way, I think that’s a pretty cool legacy.” – Charlie Leung, Pro Kids Alumni & Assistant Golf Professional

“I started at Pro Kids nearly 15 years ago. I was a youngster and hungry to grow after learning the ropes from my mentors at Riverwalk. Once I was hired as the Superintendent here, I really felt that Pro Kids believed in my vision and my ability to run the show. When I first stepped onto the course, I instantly fell in love with it. I was eager to get to work and make improvements. It was overwhelming in the beginning, and to be honest with you, there were some tears shed the first few days. I felt a huge sense of responsibility and knew this was the start of something great. It took a lot of hard work to get the right team in place and overcome challenges to get the course to where it’s at today. All four of my kids are Pro Kids members or alumni and I consider the course my fifth child. That’s love! None of it is possible without my crew. Loyalty is one of our words to live by and my guys are definitely loyal. They have all been with me for over ten years now and we’ve seen the course and our work evolve together. It’s a pleasure to lead a team that truly believes in our mission and shows up day in and day out. We take care of the course and take care of each other. We work hard every day to maintain the quality of our course and practice facilities because these kids deserve the best. Ultimately, my dream is to be able to mentor a current or former Pro Kid to step into my role in the future. We all feel a sense of responsibility to keep this place beautiful for the next generation. To see an alumni takeover for me (eventually) would be a blessing. They would truly understand how meaningful this place is and keep my greens in top shape! That’s the nature of Pro Kids and I’m proud to call it home.” – Bobby Canedo, Golf Course Superintendent

“Vista Valley Women’s Golf Association isn’t just about golf, it’s about the friendships we form together as women golfers. Similarly, in the 15 years that we’ve supported Pro Kids it’s been about more than the financial giving, it’s about forming personal relationships with the kids. When we first heard about Pro Kids, we visited the Colina Park Golf Course and had the honor of being shown around by Ernie himself. We instantly saw how very important the goal and purpose of Pro Kids was and couldn’t help but be drawn in. It’s more than golf – these kids are learning a lifestyle, and through the years we’ve been able to watch the program succeed and grow in amazing ways. Some of our favorite memories come from the years of our “A Day to Remember” events. During these events, each Pro Kids girl who participated was paired with a mentor for an afternoon of golf, dinner and prizes.
One thing that always stands out about Pro Kids are the youth who go on to be successful in many ways, yet still make time to give back. We continue to hear many stories about youth who went through the program, became scholars, and continue to come back to make an impact with current members. That’s the one thing I hope any Pro Kids member walks away with, that in life they would take the opportunity to give back as they’ve been given to. The more that happens, the bigger the impact we all have.” – Billie Foli on behalf of the Vista Valley Women’s Association

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