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NORWALK- Luis Batson Sr. never thought he'd be at the helm of a non-profit organization, but after meeting Carlos Herrera, the 58-year-old army veteran discovered a new passion helping kids, one swing at a time.
Batson was just a volunteer, teaching weekly golf lessons at the Norwalk Golf Course when he noticed then 14-year-old Herrera.
"This kid Carlos showed up one day and wanted to play golf," said Batson who quickly learned that the teenager had no means to pay for his classes. "I started teaching the kid and he was getting good in his first year."
Soon Batson saw Herrera, who had transferred from Bellflower to John Glenn High School, on the par 3 golf course practicing daily. Batson felt inspired to do something to assist young people like Carlos.
"We want to help the kids who can't afford it. Ninety percent of the parents can't afford it," he said. "I thought we need to start a non-profit to provide equipment and lessons for free. I want to make sure money is never an issue for a child who wants to play golf."
Today, Help Youths Through Golf, Batson's non-profit organization, provides equipment and supplements the cost of golf lessons for nearly 100 children every month. With the help of more donors and volunteers, Batson hopes to teach more kids golf and the practical values of patience and discipline it embodies.
"I grew up playing soccer, football, basketball, baseball. They're physically demanding," said Luis Batson Jr., who currently serves as the chief finance officer and treasurer for HYTG.
Luis Batson Jr. believes golf might just be the right sport for some urban minorities who may feel lost in the world of football and basketball.
"African-Americans and Latinos don't play golf," he said. "We want to expose other groups to golf. There's a lot of talent that needs to be discovered."
The lessons not only focus on golf, but also tie in the importance of scholastics, said Batson Jr.
"As a kid, I didn't have time to get in trouble. When I wanted to play, I had to keep my grades up. That doesn't seem as important now," said Batson Jr., 35. "We want these kids to stay in school, get good grades, and possibly get a scholarship.
"In Norwalk, I wouldn't say the gang influence is prominent, but it's present. This will help lots of kids get off the streets," he said.
In the future, HYTG is hoping it will be able to offer scholarships to any kid who wants to go to college.
While the non-profit has received some monetary donations since it began in 2010, most contributions have come in the form of equipment. Pro Kids of San Diego donated nearly 2000 clubs to the organization, which are now made available to students, like Carlos, who cannot afford their own.
HYTG now has 96 kids enrolled in its program, many who travel from the surrounding cities of Compton, Lynwood, Bell Gardens and Cerritos to attend the lessons, which are every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the first and third Wednesdays of every month from 4 - 6 p.m.
Both Herrera, now 16, and student Hanty Olea, also 16, have made the golf team at John Glenn High School, ranking in their division and earning their way into the playoffs.
"They're hitting 70-80, most people don't break 90," said Batson Sr.
Batson Sr., 58, has held several golf tournaments for his kids and their parents in order to promote the organization and encourage his students to strive for masteries on the golf course.
Help Youth Through Golf is now working with La Mirada-based A Better Tomorrow Education, a one-on-one tutoring service for K-12 students, that is sponsoring HYTG events and helping to publicize the organization.
Batson Sr., a resident of Bellflower, is hoping to take the organization to Moreno Valley and Compton this year, where he will also offer lessons for students.
Batson Sr., who grew up in Panama, spent nearly 20 years in the service, stationed in Germany and various locations across the United States. For 17 years, Batson who speaks fluent English and Spanish, volunteered to coach basketball and soccer as part of the youth service in the army, but upon retirement his mother suggested he take up an "old man's sport."
"She tricked me into golf...and bought me some clubs," he said. "I got hooked on the game. I'm not a PGA pro, but I enjoy teaching it. I can do this for the rest of my life."
Batson Sr. is hopeful people in the community will support the organization, which is in need of donations and volunteers as more kids join the program.
"Golf is expensive, but we want to take the expense out of the equation," he said. "Summer's coming up, just bring the kids out. Don't let money be a reason why you can't do something. There are a lot of kids to be helped.
"Golf is just a tool to keep them off the streets and get them off to college."
For more information on Help Youths Through Golf, visit www.HYTG2011.com or e-mail Luis Batson Sr. at email@example.com.
Published: June 21, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 10