For anyone who does it, volunteering is a selfless act of giving, but Kelsey Conway has given more than most. With more than 160 hours of volunteer work over the last three years, Kelsey has matured and seen life through the eyes of others. For her dedication and commitment to the Ventura County Special Olympics, The First Tee of Ventura Country, Ventura County Medical Center and the National Charity League, Kelsey is being honored with the 2008 Presidents’ Youth Leadership Award.
This award recognizes one boy and one girl junior golfer who demonstrated leadership, character and community service through their involvement with the United States Golf Association (USGA) • American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Youth Leadership Club – a joint initiative founded in 2005 to further develop junior golfers through volunteerism. In 2008, Conway, who lives in Ventura, Calif., will join fellow golf enthusiast Smylie Kaufman of Birmingham, Ala., as recipients for their selfless efforts in their communities.
Conway and Kaufman will be honored by USGA President James Vernon and AJGA Board President Gayle Champagne during the Rolex Dinner of Champions Thursday, July 3, 2008, during the Rolex Tournament of Champions at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind. Additionally, they will each receive four tickets to a future U.S. Open of their choice, access to the USGA hospitality tent during the U.S. Open, and an automatic entry into the 2008 Rolex Tournament of Champions —the most prestigious stroke play junior golf event in the country.
Kelsey was introduced to the game at the age eight by her father Jerry. Often accompanying her father to the course, Kelsey loved driving the golf cart and eventually came to love the game.
In the seventh grade, Kelsey joined the National Charity League and has since continued her efforts in the Los Angeles area. Touching the lives of many, Kelsey finds honor in working with the local Special Olympics chapter where she serves as assistant coach to one special needs junior golfer each year.
“I want them to have fun and enjoy what they’ve done and I can do that through volunteering,” Kelsey said. “Using my talents for others and not focusing on myself allows me to put my energy towards others.”
Since Kelsey joined the Special Olympics as a volunteer, and through her continued outreach, the number of volunteers has quadrupled. “My friends know how much I enjoy it and love it,” she said. “They want that same experience.”
In June of 2005, Kelsey met a child who changed the way she looked at life. Volunteering in the pediatric unit at the Ventura County Medical Center for the summer, Kelsey met Jacob. Her job that summer was to simply entertain Jacob, play games, take walks and watch television. Five times a week, Kelsey would stay well past her five-hour shift to play with Jacob.
Abandoned by his parents when they found he had a terminal illness, Jacob became part of Kelsey’s family and for the three months, she came to know and love Jacob. After Kelsey returned to school in the fall, she learned that Jacob had lost his battle with his illness.
But what Kelsey shared with Jacob was overshadowed by the life lessons and love Jacob taught Kelsey. Kelsey said she learned that love is dealing with hardships with a smile, a big heart and an optimistic attitude.
“Love is caring with all your might for those around you, no matter who they are or what their situation is, because you never know when you might have your life change dramatically,” said Kelsey.
Kelsey, who has signed a National Letter of Intent with the College of William & Mary, will continue to lend a helping hand when she moves across the country next fall. She plans to enroll in the Sharpe Community Scholars Program where she’ll have a unique opportunity to connect her academic studies with numerous civic engagements in the Williamsburg, Va., area.
“The future of golf depends on the volunteerism and responsibility of each and every golfer,” Kelsey wrote in her application letter. “We must reach out to those who may not easily have access to learn and practice golf because they are the people who make golf diverse and interesting.”
Where golf takes Kelsey is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain, the lives of those touched by Kelsey’s outreach will be forever changed because of one young lady’s selfless nature.
Read Smylie Kaufman's story here.