Leadership Links Answers your Questions

BRASELTON, Ga. – How much money could you raise for charity by racking up 63 birdies? For Sam Love of Trussville, Ala., an AJGA member and participant in the Playing it Forward fundraising program, the amount was $7,200.

How many hours could you devote to charity if you found a cause you really believed in? Ask Drew Johnson of Oak Ridge, N.C., who has clocked more than 1,000 in seven years working with the North Carolina Special Olympics and was a finalist for the 2009 USGA-AJGA Presidents’ Leadership Award, given to a participant of the organizations' Youth Leadership Club.

In 2010, these fundraising and community service programs will combine to form Leadership Links. This initiative will continue to include the Birdies-for-Charity, golf-a-thon and volunteer opportunities the previous programs provided.

Love made 63 birdies in tournament play during June and July of 2009, and as part of a Birdies for Charity campaign, secured enough pledges to raise $7,200. The money was split between the AJGA Foundation and Eagles’ Wings, a program that assists adults with special needs.

It wasn’t happenstance that Love made Eagles’ Wings his charity of choice. The 17-year-old had previously volunteered with his local First Tee chapter and at the local grade school teaching and mentoring children, but it wasn’t until his mom took him to a charity auction that he met Jerry Pike, the father of an adult with special needs. Love’s eyes were then opened to these special individuals.

“After meeting the special-needs adults, you come to realize that this is a segment of our society that does not always get the assistance they so desperately need,” Love said. “You talk to each of them and their childlike ways draw you in and pull at you, especially Joey, Jerry Pike's son. They deserve to have opportunities just like everyone else.”

Jerry and other parents in similar situations founded Eagles’ Wings of Tuscaloosa with a goal of building a residential facility for the long-term care of their children. A day program, Eagles' Wings serves 17 special-needs individuals and is quickly building a waiting list while looking for additional funding.

Love’s contribution aided the general budget of the non-profit organization and is currently assisting with operating costs.

“Sam’s donation helps us operate day-to-day,” said Connie Stokes, Director of Community Relations for Eagles' Wings. “So many people want to donate to a certain aspect of our organization, and that makes general funding very difficult to find, so the money he raised is really making a huge difference to us.”

Love didn’t just wake up to an e-mail inbox full of pledges for his fundraising campaign. He put in hours of hard work gathering support for his cause. Making the birdies was the easy part.

“After all the hours of sending out brochures, making phone calls and writing thank you notes, not to mention the fun of actually playing golf, the very best part was seeing the expressions of the adults with special needs when the check was presented,” Love said. “I don't think they realized or cared about the money, or the seriousness of their position in life. They were just plain happy.”

Love utilized tools provided by the AJGA, including a customized brochure outlining his Birdies for Charity program. He worked with AJGA staff to organize and collect his pledges.

Like Love, Johnson found a cause that was close to his heart. A family friend participated in Greensboro Special Olympics golf, and their team happened to practice at the same range Johnson frequented. He became involved simply at first, giving golf tips and cheering them on, but quickly moved into a more substantial role as the Special Olympics golf coach.

“Their attitude has helped teach me how to handle golf and life. They do not let their handicaps stop them or get them down,” Johnson said. “They are my inspiration.”

They are also his motivation. Johnson has organized the Drew Johnson Kids that Care junior golf event, raising more than $20,000 to aid in equipment purchases and travel expenses for the Greensboro Special Olympics golf team.

“When my playing days are over, I would rather say that I have given back to folks like those in the Special Olympics than talk about tournament wins,” Johnson said.

As Leadership Links gets in full swing, many more juniors will have the same opportunity to make a difference in their community. Conducted jointly by the AJGA and the USGA, Leadership Links gives juniors all the tools necessary to learn charitable giving skills through a fundraising campaign or through a volunteer program.

For more information on Leadership Links, please contact Beth Dockter ( at (678) 425-1761, or visit the Leadership Links Center.