It takes a certain type of person to work with non-profit organizations. The individual should be dedicated, energized, creative and passionate about the cause. When thinking of someone who thrives on serving others, making a difference and who is humbled by and appreciates the importance of helping those in need, Teresa Taylor-Williamson is that “type of person.”
“My biggest joy is knowing that part of what I do is continuing to build the relationship with those in the community who would support our type of organization, and then watch the outcome of that by being able to give back to those organizations,” said Williamson, in regards to her position as director of outreach with The First Tee of NWA in Fayetteville, AR.
Beginning in 1997, the World Golf Foundation started The First Tee as a youth development and outreach program. As director of outreach, Williamson explains that while children are learning the game of golf, “we teach core values, healthy living choices and life skills, which makes up 50 percent of the program and the other 50 percent is how we connect it to golf.”
By investing in children’s lives and aiding them in learning basic skill sets, as well as providing school-oriented educational benefits, all while playing the game of golf, Williamson finds it to be one of the most rewarding parts of the job. “I’ve been with The First Tee since March 2012 and through investor relations, community outreach and outreach with local schools – I really enjoy that aspect of my job,” she said.
Believing that children should be engaged educationally at an early age, Williamson knows first-hand the importance of a good education. An alumna, Williamson, a native of northwest Arkansas, enrolled at the University of Arkansas as a non-traditional student in 1997, complete with two children and a job. Pursuing a major in political science, she found that her time was limited because of the necessity of balancing school, work and two children.
“It’s a trick,” she said. “You engage in one thing or the other fully. It’s different being a non-traditional student because you have to carry different responsibilities.”
Turning to faculty and staff for guidance, she credits professor Todd Shields as a good mentor and role model during her four years on campus, as well as Bill Schwab, the former interim dean of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences, and Sandra Kettle in the non-traditional student office. “Had it not been for those people, I don’t know that I would have succeeded,” she admits.
After obtaining her master’s degree in 2001 in public administration, she worked as an instructor on campus until 2008, proclaiming that she greatly misses teaching and the classroom environment. However, her passion for non-profits remained at the forefront of her mind, leading her to serve on multiple boards and volunteer within the community. “I saw an incredible need, working with organizations dealing with child hunger, homelessness and child abuse. It’s eye opening once you look beyond how lovely it is in our community,” she said.
After reading a newspaper article about homelessness in northwest Arkansas, especially among students at Fayetteville High School, she signed up as a mentor with the Glass Slipper project – a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free prom dresses and accessories to high school girls. Through her involvement with groups dealing with homelessness, she accepted the position of operations director with Seven Hills Homeless Shelter in 2011.
However, it wasn’t until she joined The First Tee that she found what she claimed “fit her,” saying,” I look at what fits me best, what ties in with my interests, education and desire to work with youth development and outreach.”
Offering an annual membership of $30 for any child who joins, The First Tee offers various scholarship opportunities to help handle the cost of membership. The importance of educating children can be seen in the organization’s National School Program. While schools continue to have difficulty in funding various programs, The First Tee offers a $3,500 golf package that includes all of the necessary equipment for a particular school.
“Schools in our area can’t afford that so we fundraise to provide this package to our schools and we send our coaches out to work with them. We’re in 56 schools in Benton and Washington counties and we work with schools year-round,” she said.
While The First Tee teams up with area schools, Williamson said that the organization will be supporting the Arkansas Alumni Association’s Northwest Arkansas Chapter’s Pig Sooie Scramble Golf Tournament. A member of the Association, Williamson was eager to partner The First Tee with the Alumni Association for this special event. “We’re making a donation so that we can put a card in a goodie bag for a free bucket of balls on the range and then donating a gift certificate,” she added.
Another way The First Tee is partnering with the Arkansas Alumni Association is through the VIPerks program. By becoming a perks partner, members of the Association will have the opportunity to visit the Lowell facility and receive a discount to use the driving range, putting green, 3-hole golf course and the short game center. Open to the public, Williamson encourages anyone who enjoys the game of golf to visit The First Tee facility. Also, anyone who is interested in working with the youth, Williamson adds, is welcome to volunteer.