Kean Alumni Alex Lopez began exploring possible therapeutic applications for the game of golf shortly after his wife introduced him to the sport. Lopez eventually developed PAR FORE, an innovative intervention program tailored to at risk inner-city youth. PAR FORE, is an acronym for Perseverance, Accountability, Resiliency, Fellowship, Opportunity, Respect, and Empowerment, qualities Lopez strives to instill through his program which uses golf to foster a sense of self, community and achievement. PAR FORE recently celebrated its fifth anniversary and continued expansion is on the horizon. Since its inception PAR FORE has successfully mentored over 300 students. The organization currently has chapters in New York, New Jersey and Utah.
PAR FORE New Jersey launched in June with a six-week summer camp at Weequahic Park Golf Course, located at Elizabeth and Grumman Avenue in Newark, and will continue throughout the academic year as an after-school program. The program hopes to provide a safe haven for Newark’s embattled youth. PARFORE NJ at Kean University is collaborating with The First Tee of Metropolitan New York to provide year round programming. Kean University students will serve as mentors for the participants. Dr. Jennifer Gardner, Program Director for PAR FORE New Jersey, said “an integral part of PARFORE is the mentorship relationships that are created and sustained between Kean University students and the youth participants. These relationships provide opportunity for the mentors to role model effective coping strategies that the youth can use in their daily lives.”
PAR FORE was originally developed to undermine gang recruitment in Long Island where local law enforcement officials estimate there are as many as 10,000 gang members in Suffolk and Nassau Counties alone.
Gang recruitment exploits feelings of disenfranchisement and the scarce occupational resources of poverty stricken urban areas. Lopez is combatting this scourge with the game of golf, a compelling alternative in environments that can be somewhat bleak.
PARFORE uses Golf as a medium for developing essential life skills. Group activities are not conducted in a medical institution or residence, but on a golf course, driving range, or college campus. Through play and social interaction, at-risk youths gain confidence by “doing.” “Occupation-based interventions are effective because they not only allow children to engage and participate in activities they would not otherwise do, but they also provide a means by which children can put into practice valuable life skills that are necessary for healthy transitions into adulthood,” said Lopez. Through engagement in structured, purposeful and meaningful activity, youths and mentors gain a sense of accomplishment.
When designing PAR FORE Lopez considered the fundamental skills and traits associated with the two occupations of golf player and gang member. For Lopez, “Golf was not the end product. We did not intend to make golfers out of the children.” He did intend to instill discipline and self-esteem in the troubled youths he mentored. He did so utilizing a sport principled on etiquette and fairness, things diametrically opposed to the deviant life of a gang member. The program admittedly places the students in an environment where they may have never expected to find themselves. “I do not relinquish who I am merely by the place I stand,” observed Lopez. He strives to instill similar assurance in his students.
In 1996 Lopez had the opportunity to work with Kean University’s Dr. Laurie Knis- Mathews in a mental health setting. Under her tutelage and mentorship, Lopez developed a thirst for community service and a commitment to social justice. Lopez looks back with fondness on his Kean experience. He counts the friends he made during his college years as among his closest and relishes their accomplishments. “My life was really insignificant until I started Kean,” said Lopez. “Kean was my PAR FORE. Because of Kean, I am living my happily-ever-after. I have found purpose and meaning in the various communities I serve.”