COCOA, Fla. – Parents, you may still be looking for a program that will get your kids out of the house this summer.
There’s an option in Brevard County that will have your kids walking onto the green, but leaving with life lessons and new skills.
It’s a free golf camp open for all kids ages 10 to 17 with a nearly 30-year history of mentorship that’s right on par.
“They taught us manners. They taught us how to carry ourselves throughout life. They taught us how to be respectful to adults. They taught me many life lessons. They really encouraged me to keep going on school, keep continue to get As in school so I can be successful later on down in my life,” said camper Preston Odom.
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The program is driving positive change through the game of golf.
It’s all part of the P.J. Wilson and Henry Scott Minority Youth Golf Camp at the Eastern Florida State College Fred Gay Golf Academy in Cocoa, located at 3570 State Road 524.
The camp runs from June 5-15 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. The camp is free and includes drinks and snacks for the kids. Transportation is not provided.
16-year-old Odom studies at Rockledge High School and has been attending the golf camp the last five years.
“He’s a person of shy words, but he gets the job done,” said Eastern Florida State College executive director of community engagement Michael Cadore.
Cadore serves as a camp volunteer who has mentored many youths, including Odom, and said the program has gotten Odom out of his shell.
“He is speaking a little bit more, but also to see his skill level go from a novice all the way up to a higher level... it’s rewarding and I’m honored to be a part of it,” Cadore said.
With nearly 100 campers each year, Odom said the environment is very welcoming.
“It feels friendly. It feels warm. Everyone enjoys each other’s company. Everyone learns from each other. Everyone supports each other. Nobody’s mean to each other,” Odom said.
Along with the lessons that can be applied on and off the course, parents say there’s another benefit of the camp.
“It’s free. It doesn’t cost them anything. And besides, from the two-week program that they typically have during the summer, they still have the opportunity to continue the program because Jamie, the coach that runs the program, is out here every Saturday with the kids teaching them how to improve those golf skills,” said Odom’s mother Charmaine.
Eastern Florida State College Golf coach Jamie Howell is continuing the decadeslong legacy of the golf camp.
“It’s carrying on a tradition that was started back in 1992. I came to the college in 1994 and have been involved with the camp since that year and wouldn’t trade it for many of the other jobs we do. You know, working with young people, it keeps you young as well. And then some of them, the campers, they come back, and you get to see what they grow into and that in itself, you get to see a little bit of the influence that this camp had on them,” Howell said.
Influence that followed former camper Blake Gladin through high school and college.
“To me, it was just about golf. And what I didn’t expect was what was to come next, which was really the interactions with the coaches, with the staff there, but more importantly with the kids that were all kind of sharing the same background as me. Everybody was a little nervous at first, but it turned out to be a camp that really changed my life for the better,” Gladin said. “And today I still credit a lot of my accomplishments and a lot of what I do to that time at the camp.”
Many campers like Gladin have returned as adults to volunteer and mentor the next generation of campers.
“I enjoyed it more looking back than I did even being a part of the camp. It came full circle for me, you know, to go from one of the kids that was attending all the way to the end volunteering and to kind of see the back end of everything was, I can’t explain it, it gives me chills to this day,” Gladin said. “It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my whole life.”
At the end of each camp, EFSC awards a high school senior with a scholarship covering tuition and book fees.
“I think the friends keep me coming back and the coaches. I really like the coaches. I like the program. Everything. I like the people here. In fact, I’m planning on volunteering next year for the next camp,” Odom said.
To register for the Eastern Florida State College P.J. Wilson and Henry Scott Minority Youth Golf Camp, send an email to Karen Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Summer Golf Program” in the subject line. Registration ends May 26, 2023, with orientation taking place June 3, 2023.