Annual event provides fun and funds for the community
■ By Mike Hiles / Contributed
While hundreds of golfers enjoyed a beautiful outing on the Soboba Springs Golf Course, volunteers from 10 local nonprofit organizations helped to keep the ball rolling. The annual Charity Golf Tournament is a joint venture of the Soboba Foundation and the Soboba Casino Resort.
This year marked the seventh year of giving back to the community by choosing beneficiaries who would each receive $10,000 for a particular project or program proposed to the Soboba Foundation board of directors earlier this year.
The projects are as varied as the organizations themselves that strive to assist children, at-risk youth, animals, under-represented populations and the homeless. All great causes, the Soboba Foundation board had a difficult time choosing which groups would be this year’s recipients from about 35 applications that were received by the deadline.
Those chosen were: Boxing for Christ, Friends of Valley-Wide Foundation, Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council, Grandfathers for Golf Inc., My City Youth Center, Ramona Humane Society, Rancho Damacitas Children & Family Services, Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health Inc./Native Challenge, San Jacinto Unified School District and Soroptimist International San Jacinto Hemet Valley.
“I feel we’ve been blessed as a tribe to be able to pay it forward and give back to those that need help,” said Soboba Foundation Vice President Dondi Silvas. “They are all so worthy, but I wanted to try and showcase those organizations that haven’t been highlighted before.”
Knea Hawley, Vice President of Development for the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio, was excited to apply for the first time and grateful they were chosen. Plans for the funds are to improve the Hemet Scout House, which serves girls ages five to 17 and was last updated in the mid-1970s. They will concentrate on the “Project Sparkle” renovation that includes planting native, drought tolerant plants in the front yard and installing durable flooring and adding a fresh coat of paint indoors.
“Support from the golf tournament enables Girl Scouts in the San Jacinto Valley to earn their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) badges,” Hawley said. “This funding makes it possible for Girl Scouts to improve the aesthetics and put their own stamp on their Scout House. This will truly have a positive impact on them.”
Each nonprofit supplied at least 20 volunteers for each day. Some served refreshments to golfers, some checked in players and coordinated their carts while others helped out with the shopping experience that was held at the new Soboba Casino Resort Event Center before the scramble began at 10 a.m. each day and during the awards ceremony and banquet held there after a full day of golf.
The Grandfathers for Golf Inc. (G4G) program has remained solvent for more than 20 years. President Tony Viola said his group has received smaller grants and in-kind services from Soboba for many years but this was their first time applying for this event. The purpose of the organization has always been to attract local children from ages five through 19 to the game of golf, provide opportunities to enhance their skills in the game and promote their continued interest and involvement.
The organization plans to use the $10,000 award to increase awareness of the program, update its equipment and materials and expand its intermediate level to include tournament play for its better golfers.
“The program is free to all children although we especially reach out to children of need as well as at-risk youth to give all of them the benefits of golf by providing a venue, instruction, equipment and uniforms regardless of their skill level or financial capability,” Viola said. “We have proudly taught students the skills and etiquette required to participate in more advanced golf programs which, in several cases, has resulted in college scholarships for well-deserving students.”
Because they know the game of golf so well, Viola and his volunteer crew were assigned to help with some of the games set up throughout the golf course such as “closest to the pin” and “longest putt.”
Rancho Damacitas Children and Family Services works to break the generational cycle of child abuse and poverty. With the inclusion in this year’s charity golf tournament, they can continue the valuable work at their Empowerment Village, offering at-risk children and their single mothers a hand up and a way out of poverty.
“Funds will go towards transportation costs,” Director of Development Kristi Platkowski said. “We own two vehicles used to provide transportation for residents until they are able to secure their own. Lacking consistent transportation is one of the greatest challenges facing single mothers in our community and without the generous support of the Soboba program, we would not be able to guarantee this benefit, therefore risking the mother’s ability to maintain employment.”
Soboba Foundation secretary Michelle Modesto is new to the board this year but volunteered last year and fell in love with the philanthropic event.
“I get such good vibes from this program,” she said. “I enjoy having a part in giving back to the community.”
Monica Herrera, who is a Soboba Foundation member at large and serves as secretary for Soboba Tribal Council, said the foundation – and the golf tournament specifically – has given her the opportunity to learn more about what goes on in the communities that surround the Soboba Reservation where she grew up.
“I didn’t realize how many different organizations we have here that do so much to help others,” she said. “I found so many good hearts doing good things and met people who have a real passion for what they do.”
Another one of those is My City Youth Center, which is committed to providing free programs, positive encouragement and loving guidance to local at-risk youth. It is the center’s intention to change the vision of children in the community from dismal to possible.
Erika London, who handles community relations for the nonprofit, kept busy checking in players on the first morning of the tournament. Some of the other volunteers served as checkers for gift purchasers at the shopping experience. Although they have applied in the past, this was their first year to be chosen as a beneficiary.
“My City Youth lives by the philosophy that we teach our students: All things are possible, never give up,” she said. “Much has changed at the center and we have very important kids that need our help and we will never stop seeking resources, such as Soboba, that understand the importance of kids. Our appreciation to them is beyond words.”
The tournament was filled to capacity with about 80 foursomes playing over the course of two days while breaking in the new golf carts that arrived last week. Chris Knotz has been playing the tournament for the past few years. An avid golfer in the past, he had gotten away from playing the game on a regular basis.
“The very first Soboba tournament I participated in kind of got me back into it again, so it’s been great – I love golf,” he said.
Some who traveled from out of town had the luxury of staying at the Soboba Casino Resort hotel before and/or after their day of play. Three players in matching flamingo-themed golf shirts were eager to get out on the golf course during the first day of the tournament on Wednesday.
Jimmy Clesson from Solvang, Alex Rodriguez from Wildomar and Patrick Schmit from Las Vegas have played in all seven Soboba Charity Golf Tournaments and love doing do.
“This is our first year breaking out these [Bad Birdie brand] shirts – we’re starting a trend,” Schmit said.
Clesson, project manager at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, said the three enjoy giving back to communities by playing in golf tournaments all the time.
San Jacinto Unified School District is also no newcomer to the Soboba tournament, having benefited from the program in the past. The district has been able to adopt programs at San Jacinto High School that help with student success and inclusion.
“Soboba lets us know at the volunteer meeting what they need from us for each day of the tournament and we deliver,” Superintendent Diane Perez said. “As always, we bring our smiles and desire to serve.”