On The Green

A Whirlwind Experience

Grab a behind-the-scenes look at this year’s John Deere Drive Your Future Academy in Atlanta, Georgia!

For 24 bright young women, the sky’s the limit - personally, professionally, and on the course.

John Deere Drive Your Future Academy

This summer, the John Deere Drive Your Future Academy took place in Atlanta, Georgia. Exclusively for young women, this hands-on program for the The First Tee’s most promising participants nationwide was born out of John Deere’s continuing support of the golf-focused youth development organization. After an extensive application process, 24 high school girls were chosen to participate in the week filled with educational sessions, interactive panels, service outreach, and of course, several rounds of golf.

Mara Downing offers advice to academy participants.

First on the program’s agenda were the educational sessions, each led by inspiring female executives who’ve achieved success in their chosen fields. The leader of ‘Developing Confidence & The Resilience to Lead’ was Mara Downing, President of the John Deere Foundation and Director of Global Brand Management and Corporate Citizenship, explained John Deere’s support of this program. “Events like this bring The Core Values of The First Tee to life, [by] putting them into practice through workshops. It links closely to this notion of being a power for good in your community.” Beth Brown, The First Tee’s Managing Director of Chapter Programs & Research, agreed, crediting the program to the strong shared values between John Deere and The First Tee. “We have a common goal, we want to impact society positively and one way we agreed to do that is through our young people. We’re super grateful to John Deere for what they’ve done and this opportunity they’ve provided.”

The girls bond and have a laugh during an indoor round of golf.

As the day progressed, the girls practiced their networking skills and got to know each other through constructive conversations. With time, the group relaxed into their environment with more laughter and camaraderie; you could feel the connections being made and the excitement growing. Janie Grace Wang from The First Tee of North Florida explained her enthusiasm. “I get to spend a week with other girls that have the same passion and drive for golf and The First Tee that I do, and work towards a common goal of bettering the community and bettering ourselves.”

And even though the pouring rain moved the afternoon’s round of golf indoors, nothing was going to dampen these girls’ spirits, as they played the makeshift course with friendly competition and a whole lot of laughter.

The Road to Leadership Panel, led by Marty Evans, gave the girls a chance to hear from experienced leaders across industries. From left to right, the panelists include Tiffany Fitzgerald, Lee Birdsong, Brittny Lott and Tenia Workman.

On-Site Lessons & Opportunities

Even though The First Tee centers around youth golf, the backbone of the organization is The Nine Core Values, three of which include Sportsmanship, Perseverance, and Confidence. For Jailynn Thomas from The First Tee of Lake County, The Core Values have tremendously helped her game and feeling of self-fulfillment. “A lot of times you get on the course and you may hit a bad shot, but I’ve learned that bad shots happen and you have to evaluate mentally, ‘What am I going to do next?’ You can’t be down on yourself, you have to be your own self-motivator.”

This sense of accountability sparked a question Marty Evans posed during her Drive Your Future educational session: “How do you want to be remembered?”

Participants test their skills with hands-on games and activities.

It was a big question to ask, but as a retired naval Rear Admiral, former executive director of the Girls Scouts of the USA, and member on The First Tee’s Board of Directors, Evans knows the importance of connecting your personal values with your choices. And according to Evans, John Deere Drive Your Future Academy can only bring positivity to these girls’ lives. “There’s a connection between branding and your choices. Who knows what seed was planted to get these young women thinking? There’s an opportunity for exploration on their part, and an iconic name like John Deere… it’s a good thing.”

Despite the different choices they’ll make after high school, most of them are opting for college as their next step. An interactive ‘College Edition’ session with Georgia State University’s Director of Student Success, Eric Cuevas, brought up important themes, like time management, overcoming obstacles, and creating opportunities. And it’s these universal pillars that the girls took with them to their service outreach project: teaching seniors how to golf at the Fulton County Senior Center.

The volunteer event at the senior center began with lunch and swapping stories. Visibly moved by the young women, the seniors engaged them in questions and conversation. After transitioning to a makeshift golf course, the girls taught the seniors how to putt, and the afternoon was spent playing and laughing. The joyful atmosphere proved a point former The First Tee member and panelist, Sydnee Mack mentioned earlier in the day. “[Golf] is a lifelong game, you can play it at any level at any time throughout your life. It’s also an amazing opportunity for you to build relationships.”

Nothing like a little friendly competition!

Despite the different reasons these young women joined The First Tee, it’s clear that the lessons learned at John Deere Drive Your Future will stick with them forever. Karrington Knight from The First Tee of Greater New Orleans said it best. “We all have this resilience to keep fighting and … fostering our dreams and interests to be better for our own future.”

The young women wrapped up their experience by putting their power on display at East Lake Golf Club. As they started to play, it was most inspiring to witness their dedication, considering every putt, swing, and drive with quiet intensity and focus.

And even though it still threatened to rain, it’s clear that these girls will weather any storm that comes their way.

Meet the Girls

Networking, interactive sessions, and plenty of golf: Get to know some of John Deere Drive Your Future Academy's incredible participants!

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