By Amy Campbell
About three years ago, Allen Perreault, a former golf pro, again found himself spending a lot of time on the green. The installation manager for U. S. Door & Building Components Inc., an Orlando, Fla.-based supplier of commercial and self-storage roll-up doors, frequently teed off with his pastor from Metro West Church of the Nazarene in Central Florida.
Around that time, the pastor’s sermons focused on the merits of volunteering; and they were an inspiration for Perreault. He thought back to his childhood, when, at age 10, he learned to play golf from a group of adult volunteers. “I saw good role models and mentoring, things I really liked,” he says. “It was time for me to do the same thing they did for me when I was little. I wanted to get involved with kids, teach them what I know, be a role model and mentor.”
Perreault’s mission began slowly. Using the church as a springboard, he launched Future Masters Inc. in September 2001 with 25 students, all children of church members. The group met for an hour every Saturday morning to learn golf in a little field next to the church. “The smiles and enthusiasm the kids brought with them were very contagious, and a great fellowship began in the group,” Perreault says.
Future Masters has since grown. The program now has about 160 children, ages 3 to 18. The group has also graduated to a larger practice space: Barnett Park in Orange County, which has an official golf-training area.
Perreault has been joined by other members of the church, all volunteering their Saturday mornings to teach children how to putt, drive and chip. The course is six weeks long. The first four classes are dedicated to teaching the basics of golf. The fifth week is a skills competition—a drive, chip and putt contest. The final week is a chance for the kids to shine in a tournament divided by age group.
After the tournament, the students, parents and golf instructors head back to the church’s dining hall for a well-deserved picnic and awards. “During our awards program, we let all of the kids know they are all winners; and by working hard in our program, they will grow and become champions,” Perreault says. “All of the children receive a winner’s certificate, and we recognize the top performers with trophies.”
The children can stick with the program for as long as they wish. A fresh sixweek course begins every 10 weeks. To encourage children to participate beyond their first course, Perreault implemented a Player of the Year program. The kids accumulate points for attending the golf classes, community volunteering and doing well at the tournaments. The child in each age group who gains the most points is awarded a plaque and Target Stores gift certificate. “We encourage the kids to stick with the program, and most of them have,” Perreault says.
A $5 donation to offset the costs of food and awards covers the six-week course. All of the equipment was donated or purchased with donation funds. This year, Future Masters received contributions from Target Stores and the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority. Perreault also negotiated a deal with the Orange County National Golf Course to use its course for free on tournament days. Families participating in Future Masters can receive a discount at the golf course.
The children’s program proved to be so successful, a women’s beginners program was launched. “Then the dads saw how much fun the moms were having, so we started a men’s program,” Perreault says. Future Masters has also reached beyond the church doors. Last spring, 25 kids from a troubled-teens program turned out for the six-week course. The program is rewarding for Perreault. Not only does he get to pass on his love for the game to a new generation, he gives back what was once given to him. “The volunteering aspect and team work, teaching the kids about giving back to the community, to volunteer, to give of yourself, is what I enjoy,” he says.
The venture has also become a family affair. “The parents come and help, and they get involved with their kids,” Perreault says. That includes his family: his wife, Kim, and the couple’s children. Kim also introduced a Life Skills program that helps focuses on sportsmanship, safety, respect, rules of the game and volunteerism.
Although the golf program is for beginners, Perreault hopes to one day offer more advanced classes and possibly a golf course for the students. Plans are already under way to expand the Life Skills program and introduce more intense tournaments.
While Perreault says running a volunteer program takes a lot of patience, the experience has been very fulfilling. “Working with kids is a tremendous blessing,” he says. “They bring their smiles every week, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
If you are interested in obtaining information about starting a children’s golf program or would like to help Future Masters continue to grow, call 407.292.9236.