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Swingpals at Neal

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From WRAL:

 — It’s been said that the golf course is a place where deals are made, relationships cultivated and perhaps the course of a person’s life can change.

“I never thought so. I’ve never seen black men playing golf,” said Peggy Shackelford.

On Tuesday, Shackelford saw something different as she looked out over Hillandale Golf Club. She watched as 14-year-old Elijah Collins, the teen she has guardianship over, moved with ease in an environment she never imagined for her generation.

Elijah joins dozens of other middle school students who participate in Swing Pals.

The program is about more than teaching children the techniques of the game, it’s about life-long skills like learning to see your trajectory in life, to come up with a plan and take a swing at it.

Swing Pals was founded by Doug Hodges in 2009 with the purpose of using golf as a medium to empower young teens, provide mentorship and encourage long-term healthy decisions.

The Durham-based program partners with middle schools that have high percentages of students with subsidized meals. According to the program's website, Swing Pal's mission is to "build a foundation of health and strong character in children facing adversity."

For the students, socioeconomic status doesn’t matter on the golf course, and the focus is on where they’re going rather than where they’ve been.

Student Amil McDowell recalled learning tools of mindfulness, how her physical and mental awareness impacts her swing and decision making on the golf course.

“I’ve learned quick coherence, that’s when you breathe in and breathe out, and I’ve learned heart-focused breathing and we can do that in our think box and play box,” McDowell said.

Hodges realizes that many of the students may not take golf beyond the program, but he’s certain they will learn they can determine the course of their lives just as they determine the course of the ball.

Shackelford said she has already seen a difference in Elijah.

“I’m so proud. If you would’ve seen him before, you wouldn’t believe it. So much difference,” she said.

Swing Pals uses science-based technology called "Heart Math" to teach students emotional intelligence and mental focus.