Looking into a child’s eyes you can see a world of possibilities.  But, North Carolina children face some challenges. According to the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, North Carolina ranks 34th in overal child well-being. The ranking is a composite index of four key areas including 1. Economic Well-Being 2. Education 3. Health and 4. Family and Community.  Furthermore, U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey, more than a half million North Carolina children, or 26% live in poverty.  At-risk children face many challenges like food, clothing, shelter, safety, parental support, healthcare and education needed for normal childhood development. When children are at risk, they may never reach their potential physically, socially, emotionally and mentally.  Each of us has the ability to make a difference in a child’s life. Doug Hodges, a PGA Performance Coach and Mental/Emotional Game Mentor, is doing just that through mentoring and for that, he’s our LEAPforLife focus.

The Media Pro  is committed to showcasing people who LEAPforLife… that is, they are Living Passionately and Enthusiastically for Life Doug Hodges is a deeply private person, full of grace and humility. It’s difficult for him to open up about his childhood, “I grew up without a lot of opportunity.  It wasn’t a healthy place,” Hodges says, “and I want to make sure that I help children have healthy, safe and secure lives.”

He discovered mentoring on the golf course when someone introduced him to Big Brothers Big Sisters. Hodges became a BIG and that changed his life.

“I was never able to be present for myself or anyone else until I became a Big Brother,” said Hodges. “Mentoring filled a void and it gave me the ability to trust that everything would be ok. If it hadn’t been for this experience, I wouldn’t be able to commit to relationships.  I wouldn’t be able to be present for my wife or my kids.”

Today, he’s focused his life’s mission on making sure that every child is loved and that each child knows what love feels like.  Hodges is using his passion for golf and creating mentoring relationships between adults and at-risk children.  He’s created  SwingPals, Inc., an organization designed to give underprivileged children in North Carolina and other locations the opportunity to fully realize their potential and to lead confident, productive and enriched lives. SwingPals events foster trust, self-esteem and confidence.  “I want to ensure that every child has the opportunity to explore their potential, to be unencumbered by the challenges in their lives,” said Hodges.

Doug Hodges congratulates a SwingPals participant

Hodges knows that mentoring changes children’s lives.  “It makes them have more self confidence, more self-esteem, more self-awareness. I want them to have the ability to choose healthy responses. I don’t want them to see themselves as victims. I want them to have a healthy perspective to see the world differently than I did.”

According to Youth.gov, 8.5 million youth do not have caring adults in their lives who give them support and provide lasting relationships. The Benefits of Mentoring Young People shows that children who are mentored experience the following:

  • Increased high school graduation rates;
  • Lower high school dropout rates;
  • Better academic performance;
  • Healthier relationships and lifestyle choices;
  • Better attitude about school;
  • Higher college enrollment rates and higher educational aspirations;
  • Enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • Improved behavior, both at home and at school;
  • Stronger relationships with parents, teachers, and peers;
  • Improved interpersonal skills;
  • Decreased likelihood of initiating drug and alcohol use;                                          

What if Hodges wasn’t doing what he loves?

“I couldn’t imagine not living my passion, I can’t imagine how to answer that. It is incomprehensible.  I used to live a passionless life until I was 30 or 31 – that life was empty—I’d still be in that  same space.   I am so far removed from that former life.   I came to America with $100 in my pocket, got a job,  earned money as a commodities trader, but becoming aligned with my passion essentially ended my career. I soon lost interest in that way of life. The measure of success isn’t about making money. It’s about being authentic, being able to share my feelings.  It didn’t create anything. It was only buying and selling, there wasn’t any meaning. Mentoring became a measure of my success.”

You can see the joy on his face and hear it in his voice.

“It’s immeasurable to the degree of happiness I feel—nothing is more fulfilling than being able to help others and give back. When I give back to other kids I become more complete.”

SwingPals is part of the curriculum at three Durham, North Carolina schools, Neal Middle School, Brogden Middle School and Lowe’s Grove Middle School.  Each year, 100 children from each school are introduced to golf during 6th grade PE. In the spring, 36 children (12 from each school) get to go for additional training and interaction at a local golf course. Those children who continue with the program are then invited to continue with SwingPals for two times per week in 7th and 8th grades. Currently, SwingPals has 15 active matches through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Doug Hodges, PGA Performance Coach and Mental/Emotional Game Mentor, is also the founder of ThinkWorkPlay and is the Ravenscroft Girls Varsity Golf Coach in Raleigh, NC. To become a SwingPals mentor visit www.swingpals.org