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Meet Andrew Holets of Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrew Holets.

Andrew, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I suppose it’s important to establish that I identify strongly as a nonprofit and cause-driven leadership practitioner, and I have the awesome honor of serving as the CEO at Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego, which is a nonprofit challenging underserved youth to excel through life skills, education and the game of golf.

This basically means that I get to nerd out on community work with other inspiring people every day, and do so with the vehicles of scholarship, service, and sport to create new opportunities for youth to succeed. My workplace is in a Learning Center located at a public golf course in a dense and dynamic urban environment, welcoming to people of all backgrounds. Luckiest guy in the world, right?

Before I got involved with nonprofit and community development work on the West Coast, I originally lived and studied in Pennsylvania, where I interned with the City Clerk and City Council in Reading, Pennsylvania while studying at Albright College.

Immediately after graduation, I joined the Peace Corps and served abroad at a small public health NGO in Kazakhstan, which is a fascinating country. Something about that time having to listen to the needs of the local community, literally learn a different language and persevere through various unknowns has stuck with me. It also made me appreciate person-to-person discovery over a cup of hot tea or coffee.

After my service and work abroad, I came back to the States wanting to learn from some of the best, so I did some schooling at the University of Pennsylvania and worked at the YMCA in Philadelphia, and with the desire to live on the sunny side of life, my wife and I drove out West to San Diego in a small Hyundai Accent.

I made a concerted effort to be here in City Heights, for City Heights and started as a grant writer and community outreach specialist at the then 60+-year-old Copley YMCA. That role gave me a great opportunity to learn and grow and ended up helping be part of the construction, community outreach and opening of the new Copley-Price Family YMCA. I continued my educational pursuits while working full-time and completed my master’s degree in nonprofit leadership at the University of San Diego.

That experience, coupled with the countless stories of peers being bogged down by the cost of higher education, led me to begin my own nonprofit organization, The Students of Service Foundation, which aims to elevate and address the student debt crisis facing fledgling professionals working in public service career fields.

During this time, I was fortunate to be considered for and offered the CEO role at Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego, and was attracted to the mission and flip-the-script approach to ensuring accessibility to an often inaccessible sport like golf, and our emphasis on creating pathways to success and self-fulfillment well beyond the sport.

Being a transplant is a typical story for San Diego, but nonprofit work makes you want to learn from and grow the community, and service work can be a fast track to feeling at home. I’m very blessed to realize the opportunity to lead a visionary organization like Pro Kids, and it has all been driven by a hope to make a stronger City Heights and greater San Diego community.

Has it been a smooth road?
I prefer to see life as a parade of opportunities — some more challenging than others — but one that has always been well-served with a belief in kindness, perseverance, and being perseverant in your commitment to kindness.

My mother was the primary household figure for me growing up, which helped shape a few things for me in terms of understanding responsibility, hard work, empathy, etc., but I also sought an uneasy path to live abroad by joining the Peace Corps at the age of 22.

And that was one of the best decisions for me ever. I both appreciate and would never recommend anyone interested in finalizing their master’s degree to do so while having two kids and taking on a new executive-level full-time job. But again, one of the best decision for me ever, and I remain a thankful warrior.

More importantly, there are significant challenges facing the City Heights, Oceanside and other underserved communities across San Diego County. City Heights faces numerous obstacles, including poverty, unemployment, child obesity, and violence. Ultimately, the most pressing challenges are more closely related to inequity.

And Oceanside has a litany of unique challenges in high poverty rates, academic achievement gaps, and how we can best serve our military families and communities. Pro Kids has actively sought to change that narrative and trajectory, for now, more than 25,000 youth in San Diego ever since our founding in 1994.

And as we celebrate our 25th-year milestone in 2019, we keep taking on and overcoming obstacles. Across the board, Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego is increasing educational, athletic and vocational opportunities for our community’s youth — but only because we intentionally work and pool our resources together to make it so.

We take pride in providing meaningful ways for youth ages 7 – 17 years old to discover their best selves through our program blending academics, character development, and the beautifully unique life lessons inherent to game of golf, all at Learning Center and public golf environments that would be the envy of anyone.

Our team of committed staff, volunteers and supporters buy into this mission and know that the struggle to upend the trends of inequity is worthy of taking on with purpose, pride, and perseverance.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego story. Tell us more about the business.
What sets us apart is not that our nonprofit program produces great golfers, but rather it produces great people who golf.

Golf — in the USA — has often been considered a somewhat elitist sport. Our goal is to use a sport like golf, focus on its timeless character-building values like honesty, respect, discipline, perseverance, etc. and democratize the game in a way that anyone from any walk of life can gain confidence on the course in order to utilize those values in pursuits off it. Founded as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization by former San Diego Charger Ernie Wright and a group of community leaders in 1994, for 25 years Pro Kids has helped over 25,000 kids across San Diego County transform through values intrinsic to the game of golf. Our mission is to challenge underserved youth to excel in life by promoting character development, life skills, and values through education and the game of golf.

Pro Kids members beginning as young as age 7 recognize exciting opportunities for their lives through our Golf and Life Skills program, The Academy; an academic support system for high-risk kids to ensure they are academically, socially and financially prepared for the future with particular interest in careers in STEM fields, and the Pro Kids Scholarship; since 1999, over $2.5 million has been awarded to 250 students—often students who are the first in their families to pursue higher education. Our founder Mr. Wright said it best that, “golf is the hook; education is the payoff.”

What sets us apart from other nonprofits and even the greater First Tee network is that we challenge our youth to succeed while providing various new networks and ways to realize their potential — and that our original program located at Colina Park in City Heights was the inspiration for the greater The First Tee program, which now boasts nearly 150 chapters worldwide. San Diego — as a city — should feel very proud and supportive of that fact.

Pro Kids is a hub for the community that gives kids the opportunity to discover who they want to be. We promise to never turn away youth from membership because of financial barrier. 70 percent of Pro Kids members qualify for income-based or family military service fee waivers.

With year-round programs serving youth ages 7 – 17 years old, Pro Kids make a positive impact on members, families, and communities – serving as both a safe haven and destination for local youth and general public alike.

And while this year is our “Drive for 25” anniversary, the bigger story is the future generations of Pro Kids continuing to succeed on and off the golf course.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
At Pro Kids, we are poised to create greater equity in access to higher education and scholarships, career possibilities, and of course, the game of golf. We project a near 10 – 15% growth in our members earning collegiate scholarships (academically, civically and athletically) over the next five years, and we want to meet and exceed that need. This is set to happen right here in San Diego, but continue to ripple throughout other dynamic communities across the country via The First Tee movement.

What makes nonprofit work so exciting is that it can tackle society’s most difficult issues at times when the public can become increasingly divided over how to best address them. While most of America is becoming increasingly polarized, there is a heightened interest regarding where or to whom to turn for leadership that bridges differences and builds common ground towards solutions.

Nonprofit and philanthropic leaders have a chance to confront that dynamic and lead the way positively, preferably in a manner that does not rely on polarization. Simply put, we (nonprofits and Pro Kids in particular) can focus on the work, though in order to be successful, our nonprofit sector definitely needs to continue to engage more diverse voices and leaders, as well as collaborate to be resourceful and resilient.

Locally, nonprofits and charitable organizations continue to play a pivotal role in protecting and enhancing the well-being and prosperity of San Diego. The sector continues to grow in terms of number of organizations, size of the workforce, and total revenues and assets.

Despite continued growth, demand for nonprofit services is outpacing the sector’s ability to meet the growing needs. And recent federal tax reform makes for a murky future for individual charitable giving incentives. That’s going to likely bear out in a heightened emphasis on major donors and corporate giving rather than more modest individual charity.

Personally, I truly hope to be part of a shift in how nonprofit employees can become committed and appreciated nonprofit professionals, meaning better wages, better opportunity, and stronger emphasis on why work in the public sphere and for the public good are both noble and valued by all.

Oh, and with Tiger Woods winning again and the game of golf becoming more and more accessible, open and fun, it looks like the game itself will continue to thrive.


  • Annual Membership – Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego – $250/annual or $25/month – 100% fee waivers for low-income households & military families
  • Summer Camp – $100 – $250/week
  • 25th Anniversary/Phil Mickelson Celebrates Gala Event Ticket – $500
  • Pro Kids Golf Invitational at San Diego Country Club – $5,000/foursome

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Black Moon Images

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