SwingPals was founded in 2009 with the express purpose of using the game of golf as a medium to connect children facing adversity to caring adults who love the game and would like to be mentors. SwingPals Founder and CEO, Doug Hodges, initiated this program as a result of his long history of support of Big Brothers Big Sisters and mentorship (pictured above, Doug with Jordan when they were first matched and Doug with Jordan at his high school graduation).
His goal was to target middle schools in Durham with the highest percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and those that have markedly low percentages of students testing at or above grade level in reading and math. These metrics indicate higher levels of financial insecurity and academic challenges for these youth in the future. Many students from these schools are also at risk of facing poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, high crime rates, obesity, and child maltreatment.
SwingPals was initially offered to disadvantaged youth who were on the BBBS wait list. The program was offered evenings and weekends. This posed a number of challenges, including transportation of the children from their homes to the golf course. For this reason, we began a partnership with Neal Middle School in the 2012-2013 academic school year. Over 100 6th grade students at Neal entered the program in the fall semester, receiving 8-10 golf lessons during their P.E. class. From this large pool of children, 16 were invited to continue with the SwingPals program at the golf course in the spring semester (pictured above, second from right).
Students who continued to show both an interest in the program and an earnest desire to improve their performance in all areas of life were invited to continue with the SwingPals throughout middle school, thereby having three years in SwingPals prior to entering high school. Each child was given the opportunity to be paired with a golfing mentor through BBBS to enjoy four sessions at the course.
Lowe's Grove Middle School was added to the program in 2014 and Brogden Middle school in 2015. James E. Shepard Middle School was most recently added in 2016. This completed the first phase of the SwingPals model in which over 800 middle school students were either introduced to golf in their P.E. class or participating in our after-school program each year. Our most recent group of after-school students, as well as those interested in continuing in the program from the 6th grade program, are pictured above on the far right.
In the fall of 2016, SwingPals entered the second phase of the program model to include high school students. Graduates of the SwingPals middle school program are now invited to continue with SwingPals through 12th grade.