Children from across Worcester County are participating in a program organized by the Youth Care Center in Snow Hill and NASA that pairs STEM with golf. The program first took place on June 18 at the Ocean City Golf and Country Club in Berlin and will happen again on Saturday.

Golf and the world of science, technology, engineering and math are making for an unlikely duo on Saturday at the Ocean City Golf and Country Club.

After officials from NASA approached Dennis Naughton and Shawn Johnson, cofounders of the Snow Hill-based nonprofit Youth Care Center, the idea was formed to combine­­ the two, with the objective being to introduce local youth to the world of STEM by pairing it with a fun activity.

“Giving these kids (this kind of) exposure, it gives them confidence about themselves,” Naughton said. “It makes them aware of what’s going on out here in the real world, beyond their street.”

“Ocean City Golf Course has been beyond generous. We get two pros, we get two tents, we get three tables. I did not expect that much generosity, but it’s a tribute to Buddy Sass and that he’s just that kind of person.”

While organizing the free program, Naughton said that the country club was the clear best choice to help. The club’s senior golf professional Buddy Sass offered his services, along with two other professionals that work for the club, and the club provided space at the opposite end of the driving range along with tents, tables and golf equipment. Chick-fil-A has sponsored the event and provides lunches.

Participants are divided into two groups and each group alternates between STEM and golf activities, with Sass helping provide golf instruction. The program can handle around 30 children at once.

June 19 was the first time the program occurred, with this Saturday being the second. The YCC will look to provide the program as many weekends during the summer as it can, but as with any other program, availability is dependent on funding.

“(Next year) we want to offer three sessions,” Johnson said. “They consist of four weeks, part virtual and part coming to the golf course on Saturday mornings — a hybrid camp. We’re looking for donors to assist us with funding. We need to raise about $75,000 to offer after-school math and literacy help from elementary to high school students.”

Naughton said that the program has benefits even outside of STEM.

“It’s like, look, you’re not going grow up to be professional golfers but this is an opportunity to see what goes on here and see how much fun it can be,” he said. “There’s probably 50 people working at this course. You get older, there’s a job opportunity.”

The Youth Care Center has been in operation for more than 20 years with nearly 400 kids being reached in that time, Johnson said. The organization has long endeavored to offer activities that promote exercise, education and social inclusion to underprivileged children from Pocomoke City to Berlin.

Other sports-based programs have included pitting local teens against members of Worcester County fire and police departments — an objective that Naughton said goes a long way into improving relations between authorities and the people they serve.  

This story appeared in the printed version of Ocean City Today on June 25, 2021.

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