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Parents concerned about recent merger at First Tee Program Laura Caso, First Coast News

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- Some Duval parents are concerned that a recent merger by the First Tee Program of North Florida is pushing underprivileged kids out of the program.

First Tee of North Florida aims to shape the lives of young people from all walks of life by teaching core values through the game of golf. The program was originally created to give low-income families the opportunity to show their children what it is like to play golf.

However, in 2013, a merger between Duval County and St. Johns County has some families concerned.

LuAnn Brown is a grandparent who is very passionate about the program.

"We feel that those kids on the Northside and this community have been pushed aside because there are absolutely no children in those schools in this program," said Brown. "They aren't taking advantage of [First Tee] which is free by the way."

Brown says the funds for the program, especially those coming from Duval County, are going to more affluent kids from Saint Johns. She wants to make sure kids like her grandson, Dominic, get the same opportunity.

Dominic, 7, is one child benefiting mentally, physically and emotionally from the program.

"I've made four friends...four friends...and I learned perseverance," said Dominic.

Boots Farley, Executive Director of First Tee Northeast Florida says the program is expanding and turning no one away as a result of the merger. He says the merger is helping the program expand, with close to 1,000 children involved.

"No one is being forced out in any shape or form," said Farley. "There are more opportunities and more classes than ever before."

In fact, Farley says there are plans in store to expand the program in Duval County.

Farley says he is waiting on a $75,000 grant from the city of Jacksonville on top of the $100,000 they get yearly to maintain the Brentwood Golf Course. Farley says that extra money would goes towards Duval County, only.

"An idea has come forward to maybe making this a bus stop so that we can have more kids here," said Farley.

If the city money is approved he wants to buy 20 new youth golf sets and golf equipment for schools who otherwise can't afford it.

Farley says he's working with Community in Schools out of Duval county, as well.

"There are 7,000 students in their after school program. We want to become one of their sites for the after school program," said Farley.

As for Dominic, he is not too concerned about the merger. He says, First Tee is helping him achieve his goal of becoming a professional golfer.

The First Tee of North Floirda Board of Directors is hosting an open meeting for parents on Thursday, July 24 at the Brentwood Golf Course at 1157 Golfair Boulevard. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and is open to the public.

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