Paying It Forward--Chi Chi Rodriguez
Photo/text by Renee Burrell
"A man never stands taller than when he stoops to help a child,"
CLEARWATER - More than 30 years ago, Hall of Fame golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez made a promise to the late Mother Teresa that he has kept and would like to see others embrace. The two had a chance to meet in the Philippines when they were introduced by President Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos offered Rodriguez the chance to either meet the Pope or Mother Teresa, who were both visiting the Islands at the same time. Rodriguez recalled his rationale, "There will always be a Pope, but there is only one Mother Theresa."
Upon meeting her, Mother Teresa asked Rodriguez a question that would change the course of his life along with the lives of countless children. She said, "I heard you were a poor boy, but now you are a rich man." And then asked, "What are you doing with that blessing to help the other poor children of the world?"
At a press conference November 18 at TPC Golf Club in Tampa, Rodriguez recalled the meeting and told reporters, "Mother Teresa was my idol…You can be very wealthy but if you are not spiritually rich, you are dead. Mother Teresa was the richest person I've ever met."
Rodriguez over came a childhood of poverty in his native Puerto Rico through the game of golf first by playing with guava tree branches and tin cans, then by caddying, and then as a teen by setting new course records. At 17 Rodriguez finished second in the Puerto Rico Open. After serving in the U.S. Army, he worked at Puerto Rico's Dorado Beach Resort and was mentored by former touring pro Pete Cooper. Later, financial help came from resort investor Larry Rockefeller, who financed Rodriguez in the 1960 PGA Tour.
"One of the reasons I am where I am is because of Larry Rockefeller's generosity," Rodriguez stated.
Today Mother Teresa would be proud to see the results of Rodriguez's program. The principal idea behind his work is to use golf's etiquette and rules to instill self-esteem and teach character education and lessons in ethics to young people who are victims of abuse, have experienced minor brushes with the law, or are suffering academically and socially due to financial or other hardships.
Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation (CCRYF) Executive Committee member Frankie Ingo said "Thousands and thousands of children have been helped and the Chi Chi program spurred the development of the First Tee which has now marched the numbers into the millions. Recently, top youth organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys & Girls Clubs have jumped on the Chi Chi bandwagon. Successful corporate leaders have also joined the partnership with the public school system, local municipality and even a celebrity chef dedicated to fighting childhood obesity."
Golf Digest magazine recently named CCRYF "The Best Program in the United States for Youth".
CCRYF keeps growing and now partners with: the City of Clearwater, Pinellas County School District, The First Tee, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Boys and Girls Club, together providing critically needed programming for thousands of struggling children year round. The Academy also provides higher learning scholarships and college assistance.
Rodriguez received the Bob Jones Award from the USGA in 1989 and was elected to the World Humanitarian Sports Hall of Fame in 1994. He has helped raise more than $4 million for CCRYF. In addition, Academy programs are supported through donations and proceeds from their public golf course located at 3030 N. McMullen Booth Rd. and a community sports complex located across the street at 2987 N. McMullen Booth Road.
"This work knows no boundaries and it needs to outlive us all," said Rodriguez.
Juan Antonio "Chi Chi" Rodriguez (wearing his trademark panama hat) extended a global offer and invitation to help others build programs based upon his successful model that benefits at-risk youth. Congress recently awarded Rodriguez with a life time achievement award for his work with children. Rodriguez told reporters, "Like Will Rogers said, there are no 'bad' kids." Pictured left to right are Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy students (From L to R): Shaina Neuhardt (8th); Nick Parker (6th); Ashley Grimes (5th); Karli Turconi (7th); Devante Sharp (4th)
Return to Current Edition