Golfers raise green on the green

By Tita Parham | Oct. 31, 2023

ORLANDO — There was more than golf going on at Lake Nona’s Eagle Creek Golf Club Oct. 20.

More than 150 local business leaders and volunteers took over the course for the 6th annual Fore Our Kids golf tournament, raising $35,000 to benefit an estimated 9,500 children and families served by Embrace Families each year.

Golfers participating in the 6th annual Fore Our Kids Golf Tournament get ready to head onto the course. (EF photo/Tita Parham)

“It’s tournaments and events like these that allow us to raise funds to help support those families,” said Susie Oliver, the tournament’s co-chairperson and a long-time Embrace Families board member, in comments to golfers before the shotgun start. Oliver is managing member at Eight Star Properties, a real estate solutions company.

Ryan Parsons, also co-chairing the event and a partner at IPRG, one of the tournament’s sponsors, agreed.

“This is one of our favorite events of the year,” he said. “And we truly could not do it without you and the support of our partners.”

William Belt, a seven-year veteran of the Altamonte Police Department, was also thankful for that support.

The 32-year-old was helped by Embrace Families through its child welfare and young adult services from the age of 7 into adulthood. He shared his story before the tournament began, giving golfers a first-hand glimpse of the impact their dollars have on vulnerable children and teens in Central Florida.

Mentors make the difference

Belt’s journey with Embrace Families began when an uncle who was living with the family was accused of abuse. His father was very loving, but had very little education, and his mother was struggling with substance abuse, all of which destabilized his family.

Although he experienced few permanent placements — Belt was moved in and out of foster and residential homes and back to his parents several times — there were many caring adults who nurtured him along the way, including leaders at Embrace Families.

Belt specifically credited mentors like Mike Bryant, who was chief operating officer at Embrace Families when

William Belt (right) shares his story of experiencing foster care through Embrace Families’ services before the shotgun start, giving golfers a first-hand glimpse of the impact their dollars have on Central Florida’s vulnerable children and teens. (EF photo/Tita Parham)

Belt was experiencing foster care, with giving him the support he needed to succeed.

“This event is important to me because I believe it raises the likelihood of people fostering, and it also is important for mentorship,” Belt said. “That’s one of the priorities I look for, and I think it’s important to continue to spread that word and … build rapport with foster youth in the community.”

Belt’s own determination was just as critical to his success. It pushed him to excel academically while attending Lyman High School, join the ROTC and earn the rank of Sergeant in his first year, and serve as president of Business Professionals of America. He also played on the football team during his junior and senior years.

As an adult, Embrace Families was there for him again. He received a monthly stipend for rent and utilities and assistance paying his tuition at both Valencia College and the police academy.

Now, he is a senior law enforcement officer who is helping safeguard the lives of other children and families.

More than golf

Golfers had other opportunities to learn about Embrace Families and its mission throughout the course. Volunteers and staff stationed at holes along the way led activities designed to teach the foursomes about the agency’s programs and the people they serve.

At hole six, the color of the day was blue, not green. Golfers got a partial manicure — one nail painted blue in a preview of MANicure Movement®, an initiative held every April during Child Abuse Prevention Month to raise awareness about child abuse as a national health crisis.

During the month, Embrace Families and local partners coordinate outreach events and conversations about ways to keep kids safe. They also encourage supporters to paint one fingernail blue in the hopes of starting conversations that will help “polish off” child abuse.

“We were able to paint close to 10 nails blue — with the quick-dry polish, might I add, so it didn’t have any effect on their swing,” said Laquanda Alston, lead case manager for Pathways to Home, an Embrace Families Solutions program that helps families who are experiencing homelessness find and maintain stable housing. “We had a few even call their wives to let them know they would be coming home with a blue nail.”

Golfers show off their nails, painted blue as a preview to MANicure Movement®, an initiative held every April during Child Abuse Prevention Month to raise awareness about child abuse as a national health crisis. Participants paint one fingernail blue in the hopes of starting conversations that will help “polish off” child abuse. (EF photo/Tita Parham)

Alston said many of the golfers were shocked when they learned an estimated one in five children will experience abuse before the age of 18.

“We had a few even ask us about our current positions with Pathways to Home and the families we serve,” she said. “They took the (information) cards that were available on the table, and most of them did say that in April they would wear one blue nail — and would go for the gel polish as we suggested.”

When golfers got to hole nine, they were challenged to guess the number of golf balls in a tub. The total — 176 — represented the number of children in families served by Pathways to Home who will receive Thanksgiving baskets as part of this year’s Holiday Magic community campaign.

Roshalle Calcote, an Embrace Families case manager who volunteered on the hole, said most golfers were well off the mark with their guesses until they learned what the number represented.

“I will say the atmosphere was very fun and happy,” Calcote said. “Everybody who came by … they were smiling, they were enjoying their time, and once we told them what we did as far as Pathways to Home — providing services for families and the homeless community — a lot of them were happy for the services we provide.”

Between June 2022 and July 2023, Embrace Families provided child welfare services to more than 8,300 children and teens in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. That included finding safe placements for 2,587 kids who were not able to remain in their homes.

The agency also provided extended foster care services to 494 young adults — people just like William Belt.

$20 for 20

Law Rolle, program manager for the Public Allies program, shows his support for Embrace Families and the tournament. Golfers and volunteers were encouraged to take a selfie and spread the word about Embrace Families on their social media channels. (EF photo/Tita Parham)

The event also marked the kickoff of Embrace Families’ $20 for 20 giving campaign, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Embrace Families Community Based Care — the child welfare services arm of the agency — in 2024.

Golfers were given the opportunity to be the first to participate in pledging at least $20 each month for 20 months, providing an ongoing source of support for Embrace Families programs.

“William (Belt) is one of many thousands of people who have benefited from Embrace Families’ child welfare services since it was founded 20 years ago,” Oliver said during the awards portion of the tournament. “Our goal is to give kids safe, stable, loving homes and the support they need to become healthy, happy, independent adults. Your participation makes that possible.”

* Parham is Embrace Families’ director of marketing and communications.