BIRDIES FORE LOVE
How coffee led to Todd's 'extra special' donation
October 28, 2020
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
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The phone call, as Brendon Todd likes to say, was “extra special.”
After all, it’s not every day he gets to tell the person on the other end of the line that he’s making a $50,000 donation to their organization. And in this case, the group was “Extra Special People,” which aims to create transformative experiences for people with developmental disabilities near his home in Watkinsville, Georgia.
“It was a new life experience,” Todd says, the satisfaction in his voice palpable. “And the first time I've been able to contribute that much money to a certain foundation. So, it was really neat and definitely was something that touched my heart and made me want to do it again.”
Todd’s donation was made possible after he won the RSM Birdies for Love competition at last year’s Bermuda Championship – a tournament he also happened to win overall, the first of two consecutive victories for the former Georgia Bulldog in what became the season’s most compelling comeback story.
Ashley Stewart, the director of development for ESP, happened to answer the phone that day.
“I remember being so, so honored,” she says. “I just really couldn't believe it. It was an incredible phone call to receive and just so cool to hear how he was able to be so moved and just to feel so connected to our agency. ... To provide such a gift, it was really awesome.”
ESP’s marketing manager Katarina Christmann was sitting across from Stewart and couldn’t help but listen in as her co-worker spoke with Todd.
“She was like, oh that’s great, you want to make a donation,” Christmann remembers. “Do you want to write a check? And then I remember her being like, oh, wow, $50,000? Not your average phone call for sure.”
Todd first became aware of ESP about two years ago when he played in a charity pro-am with several former Georgia football players. One of ESP’s newest programs is Java Joy, a non-profit where coffee carts are staffed and managed by the disabled, and Todd was impressed by their enthusiasm and energy.
“It was just so neat to see these special disabled people starting their own small business and thriving and enjoying it,” he says. “And that was just something that you don't see every day that I think we probably need to push a little bit more in our society.”
True to their names, the Joyristas dance and hand out smiles and hugs – virtual these days, of course, as well as cups of coffee. Not only do they staff the cart, they get other kinds of vocational training and learn how to do things like write resumes and proper interview technique.
“I just kind of got to know some of the kids, some of the people that are involved and some of the special people that are recipients of the money,” Todd says. “They just touched my heart. And it was one of those local charities I thought I could really support.Extra Special People offers a wide variety of programs including family dinners and summer camps. (Courtesy of Extra Special People)
“So, when I had the opportunity to last fall, it was the first one I thought of.”
Java Joy, though, is just one of the programs ESP offers to service kids, teenagers and adults with developmental disabilities. There are afternoon programs, summer camps and weekend activities to help develop confidence, social skills and relationships, as well as family support programs that include counseling, family dinner and other resources. There is no upper or lower age limit for participation, either.
Todd’s donation, though, was earmarked for the younger kids that ESP serves. He made the grant early this year, at a time when Stewart says the organization was deep into planning for its summer camp program, which is open to anyone, regardless of a family’s ability to contribute to the cost.
Then came March and COVID-19 upended life. Suddenly, the money Todd donated made “even a bigger impact,” Stewart says.
With quarantines and shutdowns and unemployment rising, ESP was called upon to provide financial and food assistance that wasn’t in the budget “but it was something our parents told us they needed in the spring,” Stewart says. At the same time, staff was thinking ahead about how to safely hold summer camp when restrictions were lifted – splitting what would have been done at one location into six smaller ones.
“Where Brendon's donation was so significant is that we had about triple the amount of scholarship requests than a normal year this past summer,” Stewart says. “And we didn't really know how we would be able to serve our families, but we knew that we needed to serve them. So, we went forward in courage and in faith that this program is important, and we need to serve every single family and we're not going to turn them away.
“So, having the donation from Brendon really helped us keep that promise to our families that we would serve them no matter what. ... It really came at a perfect time that we didn't even know about at the beginning of the year. So, it was really, really powerful and significant in not closing our doors and being able to serve every type of family this summer.”
Erica Andrews, who is the national expansion manager for the Java Joy program, says 87 percent of adults with developmental disabilities are unemployed right now although most are capable of working. They just haven’t been given the opportunity.
Programs like Java Joy, which started with a janitorial cart, minus the mops, and now is active in four cities with coffee trucks, as well as carts, help not only employ the Joyristas but also show businesses what these adults are capable of.
Adults like Donna, a 55-year-old ESP participant who lives with her sister and who started working as a Joyrista last year. It was the first job she’d had in her life. Or adults like Hannah, who is in her 30s and can be headstrong at times, but she loves Java Joy so much that she puts her clothes out and sets her own alarm clock on the days she works.
“It doesn't surprise me that Brendon was impressed by them because it is so fun to be around,” Andrews says. “The name joy honestly, doesn't do it justice. We were at an event this afternoon, just serving coffee dancing the whole time. ...
“These adults that we hire have something that I don't have and that you don't have. They bring joy to people. And I'm so sad that we cannot give hugs right now because it really is super remarkable -- just the interaction that you get when you break the physical barrier of what we're able to do.”
Andrews says having Todd show an interest in ESP and Java Joy means a lot to everyone associated with the non-profits.
“For us and for our participants and for those that do attend ESP, it feels like a celebrity status -- knowing that someone who they can find on TV and who they may never meet giving to them, it feels like a dream come true for most of them,” she says.
“And we do have a few male Joyristas who would geek out pretty hard if they had the chance to meet him.”