Nevaeh Cinnerman stood and watched intently as her instructor, Bob Valentino, demonstrated the proper way to swing a golf club.
The 9-year-old Camp Destiny participant grabbed hold of her club, making sure she learned and practiced the technique.
Cinnerman, of Ridgeland, had never been to a golf course, hit a golf ball or even played golf before last month’s camp at Sergeant Jasper Golf Club, the course known to locals as from “The Sarge”.
“I think it’s pretty good and the kids should like golf too,” she said, watching the other campers take turns with the clubs. “You learn to hit a ball with something different.”
Nevaeh said she would like to come back and play golf again.
“I like to hit the ball as far as I can,” she said.
Jerome and Crystal Lewis, founders of Kingdom Touch Ministries and the KT Destiny Center, run camp in Ridgeland each summer.
“We started Destiny Camp a few years ago because we got to try and do something with the kids to try to keep them busy over the summer,” Jerome Lewis said.
Lewis said their mission is to create a safe haven for children and teach life skills to help them grow into well-rounded individuals.
“We’ve had quite a few campers who have gone to college and the military, and they’re really enjoying the program and will come back and volunteer to help,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the impact of the golf component can be life changing.
“Just having someone hang out with them and show them the game, it shows them love and lets them know someone cares about them,” he said.
Campers were able to work on their golf skills thanks to First Tee of the Lowcountry and the Congaree Foundation, who offered the program free of charge. First Tee has run clinics on the course for the past few years.
“For me personally, I get such a blessing when I leave here when I see one of these girls or the boys hitting a ball in the air,” said Valentino, of First Tee. “…I hope kids get a glimpse of another side of life. If we could just open their eyes and give them that glimpse to see that, maybe other things in life are available.”
Valentino, who sits on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club of Jasper County, said the club has 200 children in the program.
“Kids can come to this golf course and play golf for free and we’re going to provide them with golf clubs,” Valentino said. “The First Tee and Congaree will have golf clubs here so hopefully if they want to come back they will have to have some ability with the help of the skills offered in the camp.”
Camp director Jeremiah Faber said it didn’t take long to get answers from Sun City volunteers who helped the high school program come to Sergeant Jasper and help him.
Hannah Gostonczik, program coordinator for the Congaree Foundation, said she helped teach the children how to grip a club, how to putt and some general knowledge of the game.
“The main goal and hope is that these students are exposed to the game of golf and that they see Sergeant Jasper as a place to hang out and play golf and have fun,” she said. “We want Jasper County and surrounding counties to know that we are here and love supporting youth initiatives, and we are here to help grow the game for everyone in the community.”
Gostonczik said the best part is seeing the campers cheering each other on when one of them makes a putt for the first time.
“Golf is a tough sport, so trying and succeeding is so rewarding,” she said. “It’s so nice to see everyone cheering when the kids putt.”
Brian Webster Jr., 12, a seventh-grader at Hardeeville-Ridgeland Middle School, said he had a blast.
“I would come back to camp next year,” he said. “I made new friends.”