Operation New Hope providing second chances at Mulligans for Hope Golf Tournament
October 26, 2021
By Doug Milne, PGATOUR.COM
- October 26, 2021
- Peter O’Brien (left), PGA TOUR caddie, Eric Larson (center) and Operation New Hope Founder/CEO Kevin Gay (right). (Courtesy of Operation New Hope)
As the saying goes, when at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. The thing is, though, for many people facing an uphill battle, that can be an incredibly difficult source of light to see. Even if the stars of courage, strength and determination align, one’s journey back isn’t a sure thing.
Often, the best first impression is the result of a second chance.
For more than two decades now, Operation New Hope has provided second chances and jobs to people with a criminal history to help break the cycle of incarceration. A beneficiary of THE PLAYERS Championship, the Jacksonville-based non-profit has helped provide opportunities to correct to people at the lowest point in their lives.
On Monday at Atlantic Beach Country Club, Operation New Hope hosted its first annual “Mulligans for Hope Golf Tournament” to a full field.
“The significance of today is what we’ve been working on all along, which is to bring people closer to the issue,” said Operation New Hope Founder/CEO Kevin Gay. “With Covid still being a factor for indoor events, we thought about a golf tournament. And, we laughed when we realized what we do with second chances in real life is a lot like a mulligan in golf. They are both opportunities to correct.”
Not only did the fundraising event attract donors, employers and legislators, it drew the interest and involvement of PGA TOUR caddie, Eric Larson. The elevated status Larson enjoys today on TOUR is a far cry from where from he emerged.
“This is a very special thing for me to be a part of,” said Larson, caddie for four-time PGA TOUR winner Harris English. “To be a part of something I am very familiar with means a lot. An organization devoted entirely to helping people gain second chances was something I never even knew existed when I was going through it.”
To supplement his income as a caddie in the mid-90s, Larson took to dealing cocaine. When a shipment from Florida to Wisconsin was intercepted by authorities, Larson was arrested and charged severely for dealing across state lines. After serving nearly a decade in a federal penitentiary, Larson was released in 2005.
“The addition of Eric is all the more special, because it really allows people to see someone who went through a challenging time in life,” said Gay. “Second chances were so significant to him. Look at what so many at the PGA TOUR did. They visited with him and they stayed with him. That is reflective of what Operation New Hope is all about….second chances.”
Larson doesn’t diminish the impact friends and family made while he was incarcerated, but also found that, even with that support, things don’t automatically turn out great.
“Hard work and determination are key,” Larson said. “Mark Calcavecchia told me to do the right thing and he would assure me of a job when I got out. That prospect made me work even harder. To be here and share in the mission to give second chances is something I’m very proud of. I know I was given a second chance.”
Indeed. And, because of that second chance, since his release from prison 15 years ago, Larson has caddied for players in three Ryder Cups, a Presidents Cup, won tournaments with TOUR players and maintains a full-time job with one of those players in English today.
The process at Operation New Hope is that individuals come in after release from incarceration or within three years of a criminal charge. It is a year-long program, but people begin with a two-week career-development program. This includes everything from resume writing to computer skills and other ways in which people can experience success in a job.
“In those two weeks, individuals in the program meet and interact with a team designed to support that individual,” said Amanda Mahan, Director of Marketing and Communications. “Each person is assigned to a case manager, who helps with short- and long-term goals. This includes everything from getting a driver’s license in the short term to working towards restitution and repairing relationships with family members or even getting kids back.”
Operation New Hope also pairs each client with a job coach, who works with them to help find the right job for that client. Clients are also paired with a mental health counselor, who helps them with trauma or pain that may be remaining.PGA TOUR caddie, Eric Larson, talks at Mulligans for Hope Golf Tournament. (Courtesy of Operation New Hope)
“People come to us for the first time at what is typically the lowest point in their life,” Board Chair Peter O’Brien said. “But, after they go through our program and graduating, they are ready to begin full-time work, which not only means a lot for them individually, but also for those with families. The pride they show from graduating from what is a very stiff training program is a joy to watch.”
“We find that when the person is whole and healthy completely, they’re going to be far more successful on the job,” Mahan said. “That first two weeks are about wraparound care, but then they have this runway of support for the entire year to make sure they become – and remain – successful on the job.”
In addition to raising funds for the non-profit re-entry programs “Ready4Release” and “Ready4Work,” Monday’s “Mulligans for Hope Golf Tournament” was also designed to spotlight the harsh realities of the bigger problem. Not only do a third of American adults have a criminal record, but the barriers people face upon returning from incarceration include limited access to jobs, housing, transportation and education. That increases the likelihood of recidivism.
“When I went through my rough patch, there was nothing out there like Operation New Hope,” said Clorinda Sanders. “I did experience doors being closed in my face. People just wouldn’t give me that second chance and hire me. So, when Operation New Hope came around and I heard about it, I just knew this was where I was meant to work and help empower people. I wanted to work with people like me.”
Sanders recently celebrated her nine-year anniversary working at Operation New Hope.
While those entering Operation New Hope do have a dent in their record, O’Brien said they consistently prove to be some of the best employees for companies looking to hire. If the measure of a company’s success is repeat business, business is good for Operation New Hope as many companies do return after having successfully hired a program graduate.
“It’s not just about the individuals, though,” O’Brien stressed. “It’s also very much about their families and loved ones. The work we do helps people find the dignity that comes with a full-time job and to start being a husband, wife or parent again.”
“We believe in everyone’s ability to make the most of their life through a second chance,” Mahan said. “If we can help make those kinds of connections to help people struggling at the lowest point in their life, imagine how much better of a society we can have.”
“I’ve been so fortunate to have this job and watch nine years of people come in and transform their lives,” said Sanders. “They come in with their head down and leave feeling empowered, self-confident and with a high esteem. I still have former clients from years ago that come back to share their stories of jobs they’ve had for years. Many have families again, kids are back, they’re driving a car instead of taking the bus. It is just an awesome experience.”
“Empathy is such an important thing,” said Gay. “We don’t think the proverbial ‘couple of bad days’ should define your life. We believe implicitly that we are all human beings, so we’re trying to appeal to the heartstrings of people. What we’ve seen with nearly 9,000 people we’ve worked with are that 95% all want the same thing we want; the opportunity to do well.”
“This is a great cause and is one I am very familiar with,” said Larson. “If I can help in any way, I’ll be around for them as long as they want me. This is something I appreciate very much. This is something that will change lives forever for the better.”
Operation New Hope is not entirely funded by any outside entity or the state. They rely largely on the charitable contributions and the money raised from events like Monday’s “Mulligans for Hope Golf Tournament.” To learn more about them, visit them online at operationnewhope.org.PGA TOUR caddie, Eric Larson and Operation New Hope Founder/CEO Kevin Gay. (Courtesy of Operation New Hope)