Life lessons driven home during First Tee event at Ivanhoe

Sixteen-year-old Abdel Raoul doesn't view golf simply as a passion, but an entryway to a host of opportunities.

Thanks to his participation in the First Tee youth development program, The Mount Carmel Academy junior was one of 81 youths nationwide to be selected to play alongside PGA tour champions at Pebble Beach in California last week as part of the First Insurance Championship.

Just two months before, Abdel attended another First Tee college prep event in Palm Springs, Florida, where he got a firsthand taste of the academic and athletic rigors a college athlete faces.

"Golf has taught me patience, positivity, and how to stay the course," the Chicago teen said.

He and his younger brother, 13-year-old Ahmad, were two of 18 youths from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds to take part in The First Tee's fifth annual event Sunday at Ivanhoe Club in Mundelein.

The noon to 4 p.m. event, set up as a reward for program participants who have been recommended by coaches for their hard work and positive attitudes, featured a skills clinic, time at the driving range, lunch and a crash course on golf etiquette, as well as nine holes of play.

"It's a day at Ivanhoe, and exposes kids to the experience of country club," said Lisa Quinn, executive director of The First Tee's Greater Chicago Chapter.

Quinn said the chapter partners with elementary schools' after-school programs, as well as local park districts, and reaches 50,000 children throughout the Chicago area.

"For a child who lives in poverty, this provides college opportunities and caddying jobs and life experiences," Quinn said.

Jorje Lara, an 11-year-old from Chicago, has participated in the program for the last three years.

While a significant time commitment, mother Ardelle Lara says The First Tee is a vital part of Jorje's upbringing, something that's taught him a number of life skills, including what The First Tee calls nine core values and nine healthy habits.

In recent days, Jorje said, his coaches have been talking about the importance of honesty, and why players should never cheat on their score cards.

Quinn said her organization is always on the search for facilities and people willing to volunteer their time, as Ivanhoe Club has done. There is a lack of golf facilities designed to introduce young players to the game and Quinn's organization advocates for the creation of more safe haven golf courses that can equip youth with better options for their futures.

The greater Chicago chapter hopes to reach 100,000 area youths by the year 2020.

Abdel and Ahmad's parents, Tracy and Philip Raoul, looked on proudly at both their boys Sunday as they spoke about Abdel's hopes to attend Florida A&M University and Ahmad's constant attempts to follow in his big brother's footsteps.

"It's been amazing what opportunities golf can provide," Tracy Raoul said.

  Racquel Glover, 15, of Chicago keeps her eye on the ball in the First Tee event at Ivanhoe Club Sunday in Mundelein. The Alcott College Prep sophomore has participated in First Tee's youth development program for the past five years. Kerry Lester/
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