On a summer Saturday morning at 9 a.m., when most children their age would still be in bed, Ron Dumas has about 10 kids’ full attention inside a small building at Avon Fields Golf Course.
“One, two, three,” he says slowly as he stacks his fingers, demonstrating a proper golf club grip.
Dumas, originally from the West End, started playing golf at the age of 10 and is now a PGA golf professional and member of the African American Golfer’s Hall of Fame.
He is also the executive director of Reaching Out for Kids, which was created in 2004 to give kids from all walks of life an opportunity to learn life skills through playing golf.
The organization won him the Rotary Club of Cincinnati’s Jefferson Award, making him a finalist for one of five national Jefferson Awards to be bestowed in October in New York City.
The prestigious honor, known as the Nobel Prize for public service, has ties to the Queen City. Cincinnati native Robert Taft Jr., a U.S. senator in the 1970s, helped create the award alongside former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Sam Beard.
Dumas is at the golf course every Saturday morning through the end of the season for the Kids Summer Golf Clinic, where he and other volunteers teach not only golf but life lessons.
Anthony Thomas, originally from Middletown, brought his 3-year-old daughter to take part in the program, which he used to participate in as a volunteer.
“This program means a lot to the community,” Thomas said. “I wish I had something like this where I was growing up.”
A long history of bringing kids together
Dumas was chosen to head a new golf program for kids in Jamaica in the late ’90s by the owner of radio station WCIN-AM, one of the first Black stations in the nation. He traveled there every month or so to advise the 15 kids in the program.
After the riots in 2001 following the shooting death of Timothy Thomas by a Cincinnati police officer, Dumas decided he wanted to expand the program to help unite kids in his own hometown.
“We have a racial problem,” Dumas said. “Why don’t I just bring everyone together?”
At the time, he was working in the Hamilton County Juvenile Court System, where he recognized the need for mentorship of at-risk kids.
That’s when Dumas came up with the official name and the logo that are indicative of the diversity he wanted to create. With a figure of a girl and a boy held in a pair of black and white hands, Dumas wanted to show through the logo that kids of all kinds could be brought together through golf.
Reaching Out for Kids’ first Cincinnati location was at Reeves Golf Course in Linwood. Avon Fields Golf Course, where Dumas is an assistant teaching professional, is now home to the program. It’s free of cost and hosts about 200 to 300 students per year.
Dumas points out three boys sitting next to each other at one of the plastic tables. He says that the boys became fast friends throughout the program, a friendship they might otherwise have missed out on without the summer clinic.
The kids who come to the program are from all different neighborhoods and backgrounds, but learning the basics of golf gives them common ground.
“Everybody’s equal when you’re playing golf,” Dumas said.
A hands-on approach
Inside the building, Dumas introduces the basics by involving the kids in one way or another: He high-fives one student for answering a question correctly and brings one up to demonstrate where to stand to avoid getting hit by another’s golf club.
Then, it’s time to head out to the driving range.
“Everything you learned in here is going to be put to the test outside,” Dumas says.
Outside, plastic hoops in every color of the rainbow show the children where to stand. Volunteers dart in between children and parents to give guidance. It’s a supportive environment where encouragement and pointed instruction go hand in hand.
One of Dumas’ former students described his teaching style as “hands-on.”
Luke Howell was coached by Dumas at Clark Montessori High School and later volunteered with the nonprofit.
Dumas would “show it, then have you do it,” Howell said.
From the golf course to a college campus
Dumas continues to coach kids beyond the summer clinic into high school, college and even pro golf.
One of the main goals of the Reaching Out For Kids program is to help kids get to college, which Dumas achieves by scouting programs for his students and providing financial assistance with the help of donations.
“We make sure they get educated so they can move on,” Dumas said.
About 270 kids have received scholarships to continue golfing as a result of Dumas and other volunteers at the program, according to Dumas.
One of these kids is Jonathan Coleman, who received a full scholarship to Grambling State University for golf with Dumas’ help.
Coleman started out as a participant in the program, and it became an affordable place to learn from older golfers and eventually a gateway into playing in tournaments. It was an opportunity to learn with and compete against kids his own age, and Dumas was at his side throughout it all.
“He was always there to be that little voice of ‘keep going, you can do this,'” Coleman said.
Coleman eventually became a pro golfer and is now a financial advisor in Cincinnati. He describes the Reaching Out For Kids program as a “catalyst for me to do almost everything.”
When he compares traits like communication style to that of his brothers, who didn’t participate in the program, he sees a big difference. Coleman also credits practical skills like time management and discipline to Reaching Out For Kids and Dumas.
“Golf is like the game of life,” Coleman said.
Alumni of the program have not only gone on to become golf pros like pro Kevin Hall but also doctors, pilots pharmacists and engineers, Dumas said.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Dumas tried to reject the Jefferson award twice, once when he was nominated for the award – by the President of the Rotary Club, no less – and again when the Rotary Club called intending to inform him he’d won the award.
“It’s not always about me,” Dumas said. “Everybody deserves it.”
Reaching Out For Kids is entirely free for its participants and relies on donors and volunteers to get kids on the golf course, as well as support their endeavors beyond the green.
The Annual Golf Outing every May is the biggest source of funding for the program. Volunteers also donate, and Dumas often takes from his own pocket to help kids in the program.
Coleman says whenever Dumas got new equipment, it was never his for very long,
“He’d end up giving it all away,” Coleman said.
Even so, Dumas doesn’t take credit for the achievements of the program.
Saturday morning inside the small building at Avon Fields Golf Course, volunteers milled all around while students ate their lunch, assisting students and talking amongst themselves.
“I have so many helpers,” Dumas said.