The First Tee Life Skills and Leadership Academy: Progress report

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By Elsa Bonstein, Golf Gab

Some communities build casinos, some build amusement parks, theaters and boardwalks. Some communities have attractions that are the “Biggest” or “Tallest” or “Best.”
Brunswick County has great golf courses and beautiful beaches. We have restaurants with fresh local seafood and shops that feature local art.  
But the best thing about this community is its heart.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the construction of The First Tee Carolinas Life Skills and Leadership Academy in Shallotte. This 9,000 square-foot building at Cinghiale Creek (the home course of The First Tee of Brunswick County) will enable hundreds of kids from Brunswick County, the region and even the nation to learn golf and life skills each year.
The Academy will have overnight facilities for 50 teens and 16 coaches. It is designed by Brian Garrett.
Rusty Petrea, the founder with wife Carol of The First Tee of Brunswick County, is exuberant over the new building.
“We’ve seen firsthand how The First Tee impacts our participants as they incorporate Life Skills and Core Values into their lives,” he said. “Their grades go up, their behavior improves, their people skills improve and, yes, they learn the game of golf.
“Think of the future, 50 or 75 years from now. We will have altered the lives of our youth, locally and nationally. Because of what we are doing here, we will have changed the world for the better.”
I met Rusty and Jim Braddock at the Life Skills and Leadership Academy last week and got a tour of the facility.
Jim grew up in Morganton, and attended N.C. State, where he studied engineering. After a successful career at IBM, he started his own construction company, Braddock Built, in Atlanta. In 1987, Jim and wife Sarah bought a vacation home in Ocean Isle Beach, and in 2007, he and his family moved here.
Today, Jim’s daughter, Betsy Braddock Palmer, owns Braddock Built Renovations, which is the general contractor for the academy. Betsy, a resident of Shallotte, is a graduate of Georgia Tech and has a degree in engineering.  
Last week Jim and Rusty took me on the grand tour of the facility.   
“I’m Rusty’s deputy and the project leader for the Life Skills and Leadership Academy,” Jim said. “Braddock Built is doing the work pro bono. Right now, we are only a few days away from having a lockable building.”
The building is huge, measuring 80-feet-by-110-feet. The covered pavilion on the end is 56-feet-by-
“The pavilion will have a half basketball court and movable bleachers. Everything in the building is multi-functional,” Rusty explained. “We will be able to run School Day Programming (SDP) here, rain or shine.”
All fourth- and fifth-grade students in Brunswick County receive SDP; that’s more than 2,000 kids from 10 elementary schools. Most of them are bused to Cinghiale Creek (a few go to Magnolia Greens and St. James). Having an academy building will allow these programs to continue, rain or shine, throughout the school year.
Inside the building, and adjacent to the pavilion, is a huge dining/meeting room that measures 50-feet-by-30-feet.
“The room will seat up to 150 people. We will have folding chairs and tables, so we can set up almost any kind of event,” Rusty explained. “We toured Golf House in Tennessee, a similar facility, and learned a lot from them. We needed to make the dining area as big as possible and we did.”
“Because the dining room and the pavilion next to each other, we can host very large functions,” Jim said. “We tried to make the building as flexible as possible.”
“The commercial kitchen is a huge part of our budget because we need to be able to feed a big crowd,” Rusty said.
Adjacent to the kitchen is a hitting room, a game room and a bag storage room.
“The hitting room will allow our PGA coaches to help our participants hone their skills. We will have a computer that will make it a real teaching facility,” Rusty said.
The game room will be a place for kids to hang out in their off hours.
“We want to make it as user-friendly as possible, and we have a three-generational family committee headed up by Bruce Maxwell St. James working on the plans. It’s important to get feedback from teenagers about what they would like to see in their game room,” Rusty explained.
At the rear of the building are five dormitory rooms. Each room will have five bunk beds and will accommodate 10 participants. Two separate areas allow for separation of boys’ and girls’ facilities. The counselors’ rooms are across the hall.
“Our dorm rooms will be Spartan, with clothing lockers rather than fancy bedroom furniture,” explained Rusty who envisions year-round use of the academy.
“During the school year, we will have SDP here. On the weekends, we will have gatherings for participants and their families and coaches of The First Tee. The Carol S. Petrea Youth Foundation now incorporates Brunswick, Horry, Georgetown and New Hanover counties. A lot of kids from a big area will use this facility.
“During the summer months, we will have five-day academies from Sunday to Friday. Four hundred teenagers from Brunswick County, the region and even around the nation will come here each summer to learn Life Skills and Leadership through the programs of The First Tee. We even have two weeks reserved for teens from Camp LeJeune, Fort Bragg and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.”  
Terry Mauney, PGA golf professional and program director of The First Tee of Brunswick County, will be the academy director. Martin Sludds, PGA golf professional and member of the board of directors of TFTBC, is on the leadership team for the academy.
“The community has been hugely generous to us,” Rusty said. “American Fire Protection, Sandpiper Heating & Air, and Brunswick Electric are only a few of the many businesses and individuals who are helping us.”  
“This is a huge $1 million project and now that the shell is done, we need another $400,000 to do the interior outfitting,” Rusty said. “We are actively looking for donations in many areas, including trenching for the sewer and water lines, appliances, tile work for the bathrooms, interior painting, sheetrock, lighting fixtures, appliances, insulation, folding chairs and tables, even dishes for the dining room.”
The halls of the academy will be devoted to the Nine Core Values of The First Tee and to recognizing the many donors who made it happen.
“We have naming opportunities everywhere,” Rusty said. “The dorm rooms, the game room, the dining room, even the whole building could have a name on it. We want to generate an operating trust for the academy and ensure the future of the Carolinas Life Skills and Leadership Academy.”
For further information or to donate to the Carolinas Life Skills and Leadership Academy, call Jim Braddock at (404) 310-5675.
Golf Gab groaner
Murphy’s Laws of Golf: Never wash your ball on the tee of a water hole. One good shank deserves another. Bets lengthen or shorten drives. The rake is always in the other bunker.
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for The Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.