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Kelly’s Background & Story

Tara B. Kelly currently serves as ED & CDO for The First Tee of Monmouth and Ocean located at the beautiful Jersey Shore. With 25 years of non-profit executive experience working as a higher-education vice president fundraising officer, Kelly also brings a wealth of diverse public relations and marketing experience as owner of her consultancy, tbkpr, where she served a varied client list with a sharp focus in the entertainment field. Kelly holds an MA in Corporate and Public Communication and a BA in Communications/Public Relations and is proud to bring this important and distinct skill set to her current role with The First Tee. 

After working for 20 years in the higher education industry as a vice president and fundraising officer, I was looking for a new career path that would allow me to use the skill set I’ve acquired yet make a solid and direct impact in my local community here at the Jersey Shore. 

Being very selective about which organization I would serve, I ultimately selected The First Tee for several reasons. First and foremost, it is an excellent youth development program providing core value instruction and teaching healthy habits at the heart of the curriculum.  The model for the program, on a national level, is deeply rooted in research and academic principles – it is clearly a thoughtful and purposeful program with tremendous impact on the participants.  

Second, The First Tee of Monmouth and Ocean was well-positioned for growth and the chance to shape the organization at the ground level was exactly the kind of challenge I was seeking. Working with a passionate Board of Trustees, and many local community partners, we’ve already made impactful progress in just 2 short years. We’ve doubled the number of kids from 2015 – 2016 and developed several important programs to reach kids from underserved and underrepresented populations who might not otherwise have the opportunity to be exposed to golf.  

First Tee

Lastly, using the game of golf as the learning conduit for the curriculum is a perfect delivery system. Golf, inherently, is a sport in which The First Tee core values like honesty, respect, perseverance and sportsmanship are at its center. It is also the only sport that crosses generational lines and provides families with a shared activity they can enjoy together for most of their lifetimes. I have a particular passion for growing the game among females and this initiative is also an important part of The First Tee program.  

With all of this in mind, I am thrilled with my decision to serve as ED and CDO for The First Tee of Monmouth and Ocean. It is the most directly rewarding experience of my career so far. I am excited about all that is to come as we grow the program and help children become good golfers, but most importantly, better people.    

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You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving force?

It really is a thrill to wake up each day and know that we are having a tremendous positive impact on kids with every class we teach. Working with such a small nonprofit, I am able to see the direct results of our efforts out there on the courses. The big smiles on the faces of our kids, and the way they exemplify The First Tee core values in their behavior, really make it all worth it.  

There are a number of programs advocating the promotion of young people into golf. How does the First Tee program you lead separate itself from others doing likewise?  

The First Tee is really a youth development program first.  The Life Skills Experience curriculum we deliver is very much at the center of what we do – it focuses on teaching kids the 9 core values (honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment) but within the context of the game of golf.  Our program, as we like to say, produces Good Golfers, but most importantly, Better People.  

First Tee

What is the approximate percentage racially and ethnically of the students in your First Tee program? 

 Our Chapter here at the Jersey Shore is representative of our community with about 30% non-white participants.   

What was the biggest challenge in getting started? 

The biggest challenge in creating a signature chapter of The First Tee was developing an infrastructure of business practices, governance and strategic planning in order to provide a solid platform for program growth and opportunity. As a direct result of the generous support of the Fireman Family (owners of Liberty National Golf Course) and their philanthropic investment in our local program, we were able to transform our Chapter.  We dedicate our resources to putting those pieces in place in order to create the framework needed to start serving more children in our community. We are so very grateful to the Fireman Family, and to all of our donors, for helping us continue to serve our mission.

What’s the biggest challenge in going forward? 

Raising money on a consistent and continual basis in order to sustain the program needs.  Each year is a challenge and a solid fundraising plan is essential to insure the Chapter has the resources necessary to carry out its important work. 

What role should parents play in getting their kids involved with golf? 

Parents should be encouraging their kids to try new things outside of the “standard” after-school sports. Golf is the only sport that is inter-generational in the truest sense. A 7-year-old can play golf with their mom, grandpa, and great grandpa all in the same day. It is truly a family sport that provides key family time in today’s busy world.    

Best advice your ever received — what was it and who from? 

One of our Board members told me “We can do it all, we just can’t do it all today.” And this has served as a great piece of advice for me. Measured growth and careful planning are the key to doing it all — and doing it all well.  

Various golf organizations are seeking ways to attract millennials, women and minorities to the game. What would you advise they do to be successful in this mission?  

Continue to seek out these populations by creating demographic specific programs, opportunities and special events to introduce them to this great game. Also, be involved in community groups that support and focus on these audiences and network.

If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why? 

Strive to make the game and the industry in general more inclusive of minorities and women. We’ve seen tremendous progress, but there is more work to be done.   

What key lessons have you learned from the time when you started the program to where you’re at now?  

Listen to the families we serve, be aware of what their needs are, and craft the program in a way that meets those needs in order to encourage as many kids as possible to join The First Tee and grow the game.

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