Grace Chen of Sunnyvale, California, and Gerry Jones, Jr., of Suffolk, Virginia, were honored by the American Junior Golf Association and United States Golf Association at the Polo Golf Junior Classic Dinner of Champions on June 26. Hosted at USGA Headquarters and Golf Museum, Chen and Jones were introduced by USGA CEO Mike Davis and AJGA Board of Directors President Jim Nugent.
Both juniors shared their moving stories with more than 250 attendees including all the juniors in the Polo Golf Junior Classic field, parents and special guests.
The USGA-AJGA Presidents' Leadership Award honors one male and one female junior golfer annually who demonstrate leadership, character and community service through their involvement with the Leadership Links program: a joint initiative founded by the USGA and AJGA in 2005 to further develop junior golfers through volunteerism. Past recipients of the award include PGA TOUR pro Smylie Kaufman.
To get involved with the AJGA's Leadership Links program, visit the AJGA website at ajga.org/LL.
In early childhood, Chen was diagnosed with leukemia, but with the help of a strong support system and the game of golf, overcame it. The challenges she faced gave her a new outlook on life and motivated her to make a difference in her community.
“Usually cancer isn’t a good thing, but I didn’t want to let it hold me back and I decided to use it to help others,” Chen said. “Cancer has shown me that I can take bad things and make them good. It is important to always find the opportunity in adversity and nobody should let life hold them down. You can take any situation you are in and make something good out of it.”
Chen did just that in 2009 when she started her own charity called the Gracious Life Foundation. The charity’s purpose is to help children affected by leukemia through the game of golf.
“I’m grateful for what has happened and made who I am today,” Chen said. “I don’t want to take anything for granted because of the second chance I have received. I’ve been on the receiving end of charity before, and I can still remember the happiness I felt when I went to Camp Okizu during the years of my treatment. I wanted to emulate that kind of response in other patients with my own charity.”
Using her charity and golf connections, Chen assembled a “Birdies for ALL” team which consists of junior golfers from her area who put on golf events and raise money for charity. Through her efforts she has raised $21,000 for the Gracious Life Foundation and an additional $11,500 to benefit the AJGA’s Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) Grant. The money raised for the Gracious Life Foundation goes directly to constructing putting greens and bringing golf to those affected by cancer at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in California, where she was treated, the Ronald McDonald House and other local facilities.
“Through this process I have mobilized junior golfers and I have seen how much they are willing to help others and be a positive influence in their communities,” Chen said. “It has really changed my outlook on society and encouraged myself and others to do more and make a bigger impact, not just in our local communities but outside of them as well.”
In addition to the USGA-AJGA Presidents’ Leadership Award, Chen received the U.S. Kids Golf Peggy Kirk Bell Award in 2012. She hopes to continue to grow her charity and “Birdies For ALL” team to impact more children affected by leukemia.
At a young age, Jones became involved in The First Tee program to help him learn golf. The program’s nine core values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment stuck with him and proved to have a large impact on his life.
“As I got older I wanted to give back to this organization which has given me so much,” Jones said. “I volunteered to teach young kids what I had learned and I eventually started doing fundraisers. This is my fourth year and every year I do a golf-a-thon. I try to give back as much as I can and represent what the organization stands for.”
Jones’ golf-a-thon has become an annual event that players look forward to each year. Through the event and various other fundraisers he has organized, Jones has raised more than $17,600 for The First Tee of Hampton Roads. In 2016 he joined the Leadership Links program to further his impact.
“As a participant in the Leadership Links program, I know first-hand the difference it has made on my life and the benefit it has been to my local chapter of The First Tee,” Jones said. “It has allowed me to use the game of golf to serve my community for the better.”
In addition to the USGA-AJGA Presidents’ Leadership Award, Jones has received many other honors for his charity work. In 2017 he was awarded the “Outstanding Participant Award” by The First Tee for his continuing efforts to give back to his local chapter. He was also the winner of the 2017 Succeeding Together essay contest sponsored by Wells Fargo.
“It makes me feel very happy to know that my effort is benefiting more than just myself,” Jones said. “It’s benefiting many others and that is emotionally fulfilling. I’m very grateful to have done what I have and to be given the opportunities I have been given.”