Participants, parents, coaches and supporters speaking at First Tee's Developing Champions Breakfast repeated the same sentiment about the golfing program: "It's more than a game."
Kids ages 6 to 18 regularly play golf and gain athletic skills but more importantly, learn lessons for life and get support from mentors. Basic things like eye contact and a friendly handshake start early but lead to academic success, public speaking and college planning and placement.
Of the 5,000 students enrolled in First Tee of St. Petersburg, 75 percent are considered at risk with 1,200 youth taking part for free or at a reduced rate.
First Tee is in the last phase of raising money to build a mentoring center at the city-owned Twin Brooks golf course at 3800 22nd Ave. S. Students enrolled in First Tee can go there any time, even if they don't have a golf session planned, to do homework, get tutored or use computers.
Seminole native and LPGA standout Brittany Lincicome provided the seed money for the project when she donated $77,500 she won in the 2011 LPGA Founder's Cup. She spoke at the breakfast and several First Tee youth golfers named her as an early inspiration.
Antonio Johnson, 13, spoke with poise to the packed Vinoy ballroom. He said the highlight of his week is playing golf at Twin Brooks. He lives with his grandmother who has health problems, and is learning to cook meals for his family, but he's working even harder on his swing. First Tee offered an idea for upcoming Father's Day. Instead of trying to wrap up another club, a $150 donation can give a favorite golfer a brick etched with his name that will be permanently placed at the Twin Brooks mentoring center.
Guests at the Edible Peace Patch fundraiser at the Morean Center for Clay were met by young students who attend schools with gardens growing fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. They stuck out their arm to escort adults to their tables.
Fourth-grader Malachi Arson said he got to pick a big, round cabbage from his school's garden. Second-grader Daisy Harris has planted spinach and carrots and tried freshly picked broccoli.
"Some people didn't like it but I really did," she beamed.
Edible Peach Patch installs educational gardens in schools that are in so-called "urban food deserts" where fresh fruit and vegetables are not easily available at stores or markets. The program has gardens at seven St. Petersburg schools.
The event opened with a moment of gratitude for Tampa Bay Times outdoors editor and community volunteer Terry Tomalin, who died the day before.
Watson Haynes, CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League, was honored for his support of the Edible Peace Patch and many other causes. He shared his initial response when he was told he'd be the honoree of the night.
"The answer is no. But I'll give you some names of people you should honor," Haynes recounted. He thanked the crowd, including former Gov. Charlie Crist, who stopped by briefly.
"His sister and I hung together in high school. We were a couple years older and he was always in the way," Haynes joked.
He remembered his childhood with collard greens growing, chickens running around and a good supply of fresh food. He stressed that it's hard for a hungry child to learn and that the Peace Patch is addressing this problem. Everyone needs to help, he said.
"Service is the price we pay for the space we occupy," Haynes said.
The night culminated with a sing-along. Former mayor Rick Baker played the guitar and the packed house sang This Land Is Your Land.
Guests included Howard Rutherford, Mark Felix, Tim Clemmos, Robin Wiltshire, Mary Jane Park, Neil and Lorraine Franckle and Winnie Foster.
The 12th Annual Fischer-Carr Bash will be June 4 at the Isla Del Sol Clubhouse at 6:30 p.m. The event raises money for scholarships in honor of Jim Fischer and Skip Carr. Go to fischercarr.org for information.