“You all have been so influential in Jyoti's life. She has found a sport and exercise that she can call her own and that she truly enjoys. Plus she has learned some important mindfulness tools!” - Jill (Jyoti’s Mom)
SwingPals was founded in 2009 with the express purpose of using the game of golf to connect children who face adversity with caring adults who love the game and the desire to give back to the community. SwingPals founder and Executive Director, Doug Hodges, initiated the program as a result of his long history of support of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) and mentorship (pictured above Doug with Jordan when they were first matched in 2003, and Doug with Jordan at his high school graduation, 2010).
Doug’s goal was to target middle schools in Durham, NC, with the highest percentages of students enrolled who are eligible for free/reduced-price lunches, and the schools that have the highest percentages of students testing at or below grade level in reading and math. These metrics indicate higher levels of financial insecurity and academic challenges for these students in the future. Many students from these schools are also at risk of facing poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, high crime rates, obesity, teen pregnancy, and child mistreatment.
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 children from their homes to the golf course. For this reason, SwingPals began a partnership with Neal Middle School in the 2012-13 academic school year. That year over 100 6th grade students entered the program in the fall semester, receiving 8-10 training sessions during their P.E unit. From this cohort of students, 16 were invited to continue in the after-school program (pictured above-second from right).
Students who continued to show interest in the program and an earnest desire to improve their performance in all areas of life, were invited to continue with SwingPals throughout middle school, thereby having three years in SwingPals prior to entering high school.
Since its humble beginnings, SwingPals now serves the four Durham middle schools where the need is great, and delivers programming to over 1,000 Durham Public Schools students each year. The four schools served are Sherwood Githens, Lowe’s Grove, Neal, and Shepard. This completed the first phase of the SwingPals model in which every sixth grade student experiences SwingPals during their school day (school graduation pictured above far right). In the Fall of 2016, SwingPals entered the second phase of the program model whereby support was extended to students graduating middle school through to their high school graduation.
SwingPals is now entering our third and final phase. This phase ensures that all school-based middle school students continue to benefit from SwingPals programming during the school day, regardless of whether they enroll in the SwingPals after-school program. Phase three also creates the opportunity for our SwingPals Student Leaders and SwingPals Student Ambassadors to utilize their mindfulness and leadership skills through mentoring their peers, as well as school staff and faculty, in their originating middle school - paying forward their SwingPals experience.