GivingTuesday spotlights PGA TOUR's 'Faces Across Fairways' initiative
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TOUR raises $100M for 'Faces Across Fairways' to support underserved, underrepresented communities
Written by Helen Ross @Helen_PGATOUR
One is a student who attends the TGR Learning Lab in Anaheim, California, and aspires to become a lawyer specializing in cybersecurity. Another coaches the men’s and women’s golf teams at Prairie View A&M University. A third lost his legs in a boating accident as a teen and has made it his life’s work to help other child amputees.
Those are just three of the “Faces Across Fairways” who were helped by the PGA TOUR and its tournaments during the successful quest to raise $100 million to address the needs of underserved and underrepresented communities.
The 100 “Faces” – people like Ariana Perez, Mesha Levister and Jordan Thomas – are being spotlighted during this week’s Hero World Challenge on GivingTuesday, when individuals are being encouraged to support non-profits across the globe.
The timeline for the TOUR’s pledge was 10 years but the goal was accomplished in just three. During that period, relationships with 360 new charitable partners were established and 552 non-profits in cities that host TOUR events reaped the benefits.
To date, over $124 million – and counting – has been raised with more than $82 million of that total amassed in the last year alone. So, the momentum continues and GivingTuesday is the perfect day to draw attention to those good works.
The TGR Learning Lab that Ariana attends is supported by the Hero World Challenge and the Genesis Invitational, events that are hosted by Tiger Woods. The Learning Lab in Anaheim is a 35,000 square-foot education center that focuses on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) for students in grades 5-12. There’s instruction in the arts, as well as a college-access program that includes workshops on testing requirements and the chance to meet with college recruiters.
Ariana has taken full advantage of the after-school curriculum where classes are hands-on. She’s learned to program robots and designed apps in her media class. Not to mention, Ariana started playing golf there at the age of 10 and now can shoot in the 70s.
The varied curriculum at the TGR Learning Lab has prompted Ariana, who also competes on the debate team and participates in mock trials, to think about her options in a different light.
“With a lot of the classes they’re kind of teaching you about design or teaching you about STEM studies or cybersecurity students which are all kind of like the future,” she says. “So those are very helpful. But they teach it in a way where it’s not too daunting or scary where it’s like, oh, I can’t do that because, like, I’m not smart enough or I won’t understand it.”
Levister, who coaches both the men and women at Prairie View, started playing golf at the age of 3, tagging along to the course with her dad. Although she also had scholarship offers in basketball, she opted for golf because she wanted to be a trendsetter.
“I told my dad I would rather play golf because there are fewer people that look like me playing golf,” the 41-year-old African American said. “… I felt like I had something to give in the game.”
So, after a brief pro career, Levister started to concentrate on developing young players. Before coming to Prairie View, she did double-duty coaching the men and women at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) like North Carolina Central in Durham, where she played No. 1 on the men’s team as a freshman, and Lincoln University in Jefferson, Missouri.
At Prairie View, her teams have benefitted from a partnership between United Airlines and the TOUR that will award $1.5 million in grants to 51 golf teams at HBCUs through the year 2025. Those flight credits can be used for team travel and recruiting.
“Just to reduce costs of travel helps tremendously because now we can use those funds to give them a better experience as a student-athlete,” says Levister, who remembers an 11-hour road trip from Durham to Port St. Lucie during her own college days.
Thomas was 16 in 2005 when he lost both his legs below the knees in a scuba diving accident.
Before he even got out of the hospital, Thomas vowed to become an advocate for other kids like him. Kids who need specialized prostheses to stay active in sports like running, swimming, rock climbing and golf. Kids whose limbs must be replaced every 18 to 24 months and can cost $20,000 or more.
The Jordan Thomas Foundation provides limbs for some of the 25,000 child amputees across the United States and functions as a resource for their families. It also helps families of the kids it sponsors deal with insurance companies that don’t always consider these activity limbs medically necessary.
The game he loves has proven to be the perfect conduit in those endeavors.
“Golf in a lot of ways, did save my life,” Thomas said. “It was an outlet. It was a thing that for me, right after I lost my legs, the only place I wanted to be was on the golf course. A lot of my recovery has been because of golf. Golf is a huge part of who I am. It's what I love to do, and I will play golf until they put me in the ground.
“But now golf is such a huge thing for me in terms of the opportunity to impact lives and to connect with people that have the means to really impact the foundation, which ultimately means to impact the lives of other kids.”