Finalists Bring Volunteerism Close to Home

Presidents’ Youth Leadership Award Honorable Mention

They create charity golf tournaments. They organize junior golf associations and activities. They publish books. They donate time to charities. In sum, they look for creative ways to serve their communities - often through the game of golf.

They are the top candidates for the 2008 Presidents’ Youth Leadership Award, which was created to recognize junior golfers who demonstrate leadership, character and community service through their involvement with the USGA • AJGA Youth Leadership Club – a joint initiative founded in 2005 to further develop junior golfers through volunteerism.

This three-part series recognizes seven boys and seven girls for their incredible community service. Part I takes a look at the four honorable mention candidates for the award. Part II highlights the award’s eight finalists. Part III features the boy and girl who are receiving the 2008 award.


Melanie Audette
Lakeland, Florida
Age 18

Teaching golf to kids through The First Tee of Lakeland helped Melanie Audette find her career path.

“I discovered that I enjoyed teaching golf and had a knack for it,” Melanie said. “I want to be a teaching pro.”

Melanie has been involved with The First Tee since 2005 and has logged more than 250 service hours in 2 ½ years. What’s more, she encouraged her high school team to join her. Five teammates responded and have also volunteered for The First Tee.

Melanie has also volunteered her time with the Duramed Futures Tour, Polk County Amateur Golf Championship, Greater Tampa Junior Golf Association and Lakeland Police Explorers Club.

“My volunteer activities have shown me how important volunteers are to the development of young players and the operation of amateur and professional golf tournaments,” Melanie said. “My future thank you notes will be more meaningful since I know how much time and effort those I am thanking have put in to making the tournament fun for me.”

Tiffany Dong
Sacramento, California
Age 17

A nervous and shy 12-year-old arrived at The First Tee of Greater Sacramento in 2003, unsure of how she might be able to contribute. Nearly five years later, Tiffany Dong’s service has left an imprint on the lives of many fellow golfers.

Case in point: A young girl named Colleen, who Tiffany met at her first junior clinic.

“I saw a girl named Colleen smile at me. Her toothy grin comforted me as I strolled to her, shyly returning her smile,” Tiffany recalls of their first meeting in 2003. “I still see Colleen now, but she coaches the juniors now. I am so proud of her. Like Colleen, I have changed. Replacing the quiet volunteer is a girl who takes initiative. A girl who actively includes all juniors no matter how shy or outgoing, knowing in her heart that they all can shine.”

With more than 300 hours of service with The First Tee, plus additional service with the K.E.Y. Club and other school groups, Tiffany has experienced personal satisfaction and joy that comes from service.

Hannah Martin
Salina, Kansas
Age 16

“Little Sister” Jaci is one of many kids to benefit from Hannah Martin’s dedication to serving others. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Salina connected Hannah and Jaci, providing Jaci with a dependable role model that she greatly needed in her life.

“Jaci may not be growing up with the best of circumstances, but it is so rewarding for me to know that I am someone she can always count on,” Hannah said.

This is just one of many organizations that benefit from Hannah’s charity, as she spreads her service evenly across Big Brothers Big Sisters, The First Tee of Salina, First United Methodist Church, and the Salina Country Club Junior Golf Program, giving nearly 200 hours of service since 2003.

Her First Tee involvement landed her the Renee Powell Women’s Leadership Award in 2006.

Since she was 10 years old, she has foregone birthday presents each year and used the occasions to have gift-givers donate to charity. Her birthday parties have involved service projects instead of the usual fun and games.

“I hope to continue to develop as a role model and leader for other young women and young golfers,” Hannah said.

Katie Sylvan
San Diego, California
Age 17

Throughout high school, Katie Sylvan has found opportunities to serve. As a freshman, she assisted The First Tee of San Diego. As a sophomore, she volunteered at the San Diego Zoo.

Now, in her junior year, she has been giving three hours per week at Children’s Hospital Toddler School and Autism Intervention Center.

“I have been amazed to see the improvement in speaking abilities and development of the autistic children,” she said. “I will continuing volunteering there throughout the rest of high school.”

But that isn’t all. Katie has found another group to which she donates her time. Through the Parker Youth in Action chapter of Free the Children, Katie and fellow students raise money and perform service projects to help impoverished children around the world. A trip to India awaits her this summer.

“Volunteering in the community has allowed me to see beyond my family and myself and has widened my interests and my experiences,” Katie said.

Brandon Hagy
Westlake Village, California
Age 17

Brandon Hagy is not your run-of-the-mill member of the Ventura County Junior Golf Association. He has been a vital volunteer to the organization’s mission, serving as a teen mentor, assisting with the Special Olympics, participating in a 100 Holes fundraiser, volunteering for the Boys and Girls Club and serving on the Junior Advisory Committee.

Additionally, Brandon has found ways to support the Relay for Life, Planet Hope, and other charitable causes – donating more than 300 hours of his time over the past six years. But teaching golf to others has been his favorite activity.

“There is no better way to give back and respect the game that has given me so much, than volunteering my time to help others learn to play,” Brandon said.

This is why Brandon has spent the past two years helping Arturo, a Special Olympic athlete. Brandon and Arturo have become good friends through golf, even earning a gold medal together at a Special Olympic event.

“Arturo never stops laughing (especially at my expense!), and our friendship is something I will always hold near to my heart,” Brandon said. “Volunteering my time to support the Special Olympics has never been a chore but rather a privilege.”

Zachary Herr
New Hope, Pennsylvania
Age 13

With his mom fighting colon cancer, Zach Herr became determined that she wouldn’t fight it alone. As she underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Zach found a way to wage a battle, too, creating the Zach Attacks Cancer Foundation.

“Golf is what I do and know, so it made a lot of sense that I use the contacts and friends that I have made in the game to assist me in my effort to raise money for cancer research,” Zach said.

Thanks to the help of kids at various schools, more than 3,000 green wristbands have been sold. And the time is almost here for the fundraiser golf tournament, where Zach’s foundation has gathered $20,000 worth of auction items, sold 80 tee times and secured 12 hole sponsors.

After all is said and done, Zach expects to present a check worth $50,000-$70,000 to the Fox Chase Cancer Center, where his mom’s cancer was successfully treated and where doctors continue to research cancer treatments.

“This research will help the doctors at Fox Chase Cancer Center find new cures and give all cancer patients more hope,” Zach said.

Drew Johnson
Oak Ridge, North Carolina
Age 13

Drew Johnson is 13. You’d be forgiven if you thought he was much older after learning that he has given more than 500 hours of service over the past five years to the Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro.

Drew was just nine years old when he started assisting the athletes. His chores in those early days consisted of getting water, teeing up their golf balls and applauding their efforts. He soon began coaching, but decided he needed to do more.

“Five years ago, my parents challenged me to develop other ways to help,” Drew said. “I came up with the idea to start a junior tournament to raise money for Special Olympics golf in North Carolina.”

After raising $700 in his first year, Drew’s efforts have grown and after five years, the “Drew Johnson Kids That Care” event has raised about $20,000 for the Special Olympics.

“My helping with the Special Olympics, in my small way, is how I can do my part to help others succeed, and lift the game of golf as high as I can,” he said.

All this – and he’s only 13.

Javier Lopez
Chicago, Illinois
Age 17

Javier Lopez sees opportunities to serve his community in many places. And he doesn’t let them pass.

His dedication to service has led him to many places: teaching golf to mentally challenged adults; feeding the homeless during the holiday season; rounding up toys, clothing and school supplies for a shelter; and much more.

For four years, Javier has given up two Saturdays a month for community service projects through Jack and Jill of America.

With more than 150 hours with this group alone (around 500 hours of service in total), Javier has been able to read books to kids, prepare bags of food at a food pantry, and perform Christmas service projects.

Javier has also given more than 180 hours to The First Tee of Chicago, mentoring other junior golfers and becoming certified at the Eagle Level – the highest honor at The First Tee.

“All of these service activities have helped me become a better golfer,” Javier said. “Through all these projects, I have learned to become patient and disciplined, which is extremely important on the golf course."