Thomas Haller received a grant through Cradle to Career’s Advocates for Action, which he used to facilitate free golf lessons at Canal Shores for 18 youth. Submitted photo

Canal Shores Golf Course was started 100 years ago by Evanston golfer Peter Jans, whose goal was to make golf accessible for everyone. Fast forward a century and today’s generation is still working hard to achieve that goal.

July 9 was the final golf lesson for the inaugural Evanston Cradle 2 Career/Canal Shores Golf Camp. The camp was created by 16-year-old Evanston Township High School student and boys’ golf team member Thomas Haller. Thomas, who has been playing golf for almost 10 years, said he wanted to introduce the sport to young, minority kids.

“It’s basically an introductory golf camp,” he said. “It’s to introduce the kids to the game of golf, get some basics down, like how to swing a club and how to navigate their way around the course. We go over driving, chipping and putting. All the basics of the game.”

None of the diverse group of 18 Evanston kids had ever held a club before. During eight sessions (twice a week for four weeks) the camp has been a good way to introduce the sport to the kids.

“I had a lot of fun,” said eight-year-old camper Brody Brown. “On a scale of one to 10, I would say 10.”

Youth sports is all about having fun, and the Golf Camp made sure that was a big part of the agenda, along with learning the game. “We just wanted to be casual and make everyone feel welcomed,” said Kelly Marcelle, who designed and led the camp. “We always welcomed the parents when they came, we tried to get them involved. I think it just was organic. People seemed to just feel really good about being together.”

Ms. Marcelle is a volunteer for Evanston Cradle 2 Career (EC2C), an organization that “advocates for ALL children and families to have access to the opportunities and resources needed to achieve equitable outcomes.” Thomas received a Community Building Grant through EC2C to help create the program. 

This grant program, though relatively new, has had many applicants and help from people such as Mary Beth Schroeder of the Evanston Community Foundation and Kim Holmes-Ross of Advocates for Action. Advocates for Action , a community leadership council formed by EC2C, is one of the backbones of the Community Building Grant. 

Thomas applied during the second cycle (they have had two so far), and was one of the eight projects picked out of 18 applications. This grant is designed to help local projects hit the ground running.

High school students in early May were encouraged to apply for grants with the goal of creating more young leaders. Thomas said he realized his golf team was insufficiently diverse and he wanted to help kids of color and low-income children play the sport he loved. 

“My mom is a Head Start teacher for the district, and one of the teachers she works with is on the board for the Advocates for Action, so my mom mentioned my idea, and [my mom’s coworker] said that we should try to apply for a Community Building Grant and they would help us through it,” he said. When he received the money, he used it to get lessons and snacks and drinks for the kids.

Ms. Marcelle has been with the organization for two years and was happy to help out with the golf camp. She said, “It’s kind of ironic because I have never golfed a day in my life. But I live near the 15th hole, so I come down here a lot…and have gotten to know people on the board. So, when they said we needed an adult volunteer, it seemed very natural for me to do it because I already knew so many people.” 

Parents of the new young golfers had great things to say about the program. One of these was Yancey Hughes, whose 12-year-old son Belaye was in the program. He talked about his first reaction to hearing about the camp. “Oh my gosh. Is that actually possible? We jumped at the opportunity…and luckily we were one of the early ones that got in.” 

“It has helped [Belaye] with his social skills, his concentration,” said Mr. Hughes. It’s a discipline sport. It’s helped him with his discipline and focus.”

After a successful first camp, the program is looking to expand and continue to help young minority golfers. “We have a couple kids who are really interested in the game,” Thomas said. “And they are going to be doing some stuff with us and with the golf practice, going on to their next camp. And we are thinking about doing it again next summer.”

To help encourage the campers, the program is giving every one a free Junior Membership and an assigned golf mentor. Many of the kids plan to keep on golfing. When asked if he would continue playing, Brody had one simple answer: “Yes!”