Angela Villela, of Sylmar, Calif., and Joseph Suarez, of Richmond, Va., were named the 2007 President’s Youth Leadership Award recipients, the United States Golf Association and American Junior Golf Association announced Monday.
This award was created to recognize one boy and one girl junior golfer who demonstrated 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. In the award’s inaugural year in 2006, Katrina Delen-Briones, of San Francisco, and Adam Michel, of Orinda, Calif., were honored for their efforts at their local First Tee chapters.
Villela and Suarez will be honored and formally presented the award by USGA President Walter Driver during the Rolex Dinner of Champions Thursday, July 5, 2007, during the Rolex Tournament of Champions at The Ohio State University Golf Club in Columbus, Ohio. 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 2007 Rolex Tournament of Champions - one of the most prestigious junior golf events in the country.
Villela, 16, grew up in a Latino area of Los Angeles far away from anything golf. She was first introduced to the game more than seven years ago through a junior golf program initiated by Los Angeles 6th District Councilman Tony Cardenas. As her game developed, so did her relationship with Cardenas and her commitment to the Andres Y Maria Cardenas Foundation, which donates money to high school graduates going on to college. Her time spent volunteering with this Foundation affords her the opportunity to speak to her peers about fulfilling their dreams of attending college. This is only the beginning of her selflessness in her community.
She also volunteers for the Special Olympics at Vista Valencia Golf Course and started an after-school program called “Growing the Game” with the help of her father, Gus Villela, and her instructor, Rudy Garcia. Last year, she attended the First Tee of Pasadena for the first time and was asked to instruct other juniors after her talent and devotion became so evident.
Villela is the leader of her high school golf team, both on and off the course. As an AJGA champion, she is the team’s inspiration for elevating their games. Improving the team’s performance was a tall task due to the lack of appropriate equipment and practice and playing facilities. In response, Villela organized the effort to raise funds for equipment and negotiated an agreement with Shoal Canyon Golf Course to play and practice at no cost. The result was a 10-0 season, a league championship and an average improvement of 25 strokes per nine-hole round by her teammates.
“Growing up in my community, you have a lot of obstacles in life – gangs, drugs, financial pressures and teen pregnancies,” Villela wrote in her award application. “Through the game of golf, I have learned to never give up and no matter what obstacles or hazards are in my life, I play on. The game of golf does not discriminate. It doesn’t know if you’re rich or poor, black or white, where you’re from, or where you’re going. The rules are the same for me and you.”
Suarez, 17, connected with the game of golf as a 9-year-old through the Richmond City Parks and Recreation Department’s Hook-A-Kid on Golf program, an inner-city youth golf initiative. He eventually became an active participant at the Richmond First Tee chapter and was selected to hit the facilities’ inaugural tee shot with President George H. W. Bush. His experiences at these programs were what taught him the rewards of volunteerism.
He started giving his time as a 12-year-old. By the time he was 16, he was supporting The First Tee of Richmond, Richmond’s Hook-a-Kid on Golf program, his church, Challenge Golf League, Traditions of Golf Challenge, LPGA Michelob ULTRA Open, Habitat for Humanity, CARITAS, Martin Luther King, Jr., Read Aloud Program, and MADE, Men Advocating Diverse Equality.
“Joseph is the most dedicated young individual that I’ve had pleasure to work with,” said Donald Coleman, director of golf programs for the Richmond City Parks and Recreation Department. “He is the first one to arrive and the last one to leave for programs and activities relating to golf. His life has and is touching many others’ lives in a positive way.”
This is shown in his amount of time he devotes to volunteerism. In the past three years, Suarez has volunteered a staggering 1,200 hours, including nearly 500 hours this year alone.
“It makes you feel like you accomplished something great when you make a difference in the life of a kid,” Suarez wrote in his application letter. “When you give back your time to help community programs, especially that help other kids learn golf, you develop and reap leadership skills as well.”
Honorable Mention - President's Youth Leadership Award
Victoria Arena, Lansdale, Pa.
Mitch Anderson, Dana Point, Calif.
Kelly Coakley, Brookfield, Wis.
Kelsey Conway, Ventura, Calif.
Kristen Hagan, Charlotte, N.C.
Drew Johnson, Charlottem N.C.
Smylie Kaufman, Birmingham, Ala.
MacKinzie Kline, Encinitas, Calif.
Chris Severn, Oak Park, Calif.
Kelly Shon, Port Washington, N.Y.