Perhaps the only downside of playing golf regularly is the impact that enhanced exposure to the sun can have on the skin. For those golfers who may find themselves looking for a dermatologist in a few years, First Tee – North Florida student Alanis Santiago Maldanado is a name to remember.
“My dream is to go medical school and be a dermatologist, that’s been a goal of mine forever. I really love to help people,” Alanis said.
Currently, Alanis is helping other First Tee – North Florida students as a coach and mentor. After graduating from Yulee High School later this month, Alanis will be moving on to Young Harris College in Northern Georgia, where she’ll begin working toward her career aspirations while also playing on the golf team.
Through years of hard work, Alanis earned both an athletic and academic scholarship to Young Harris College. However, at times she struggled with the pressure of her own expectations, and the support she received at First Tee – North Florida was critical in helping her through.
“Throughout high school, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get good grades and play golf in college,” Alanis said. “But my First Tee mentors were great in helping me view the game in a different way where I had more fun and knew everything was going to be OK.”
First Tee – North Florida Executive Director Jeff Willoughby has noticed Alanis’ progression since she came to First Tee – North Florida six years ago.
“Her golf game was strong to begin with and it has gotten much better,” Willoughby said. “But she was stressing herself out between golf and academics. Talking to mentors and other alumni was a huge help for her. Sometimes it’s good for kids to have someone to talk to besides their parents, though she has a solid base with her family, and they have definitely raised her right.”
It was Alanis’ father who got her started in the game as an eight-year-old in Puerto Rico, where Alanis lived until she was 10. In 2014, the family moved to Georgia and then New York before settling in the Jacksonville area in 2016, where Alanis joined First Tee – North Florida. What began as a fun way for her to spend time with her father evolved into an opportunity to earn a scholarship as Alanis showed a knack for playing the game.
Though Alanis earned a scholarship directly from the college itself, First Tee – North Florida awards more than $100,000 in scholarship money available for students annually. As a beneficiary of the Constellation Furyk & Friends, First Tee – North Florida has received financial assistance, supplies, and advocacy of the organization from the Jim & Tabitha Furyk Foundation.
“We are so proud to play even a small role in Alanis’ journey. Her story shows how golf can have an impact on a young person’s life both inside and outside the ropes,” said Jim Furyk. “First Tee – North Florida continues to have an incredible impact on the greater Jacksonville area. We look forward to continuing our support of this fantastic organization and its impressive youth participants.”
“We are grateful for the support we receive from the Constellation FURYK & Friends,” Willoughby said. “Jim and Tabitha (Furyk) have opened a lot of doors for us with donors, and Constellation has stepped in as a big supporter of what we’re doing as well.”
Donors are a vital to enabling First Tee to integrate the game of golf with a life skills curriculum, creating active learning experiences that build inner strength, self-confidence, and resilience that kids can carry to everything they do. This will certainly be the case with Alanis as she transitions from being a high school and First Tee student to a college student.
“Through First Tee I not only learned how to play my best golf, but I also learned how to set goals and be focused on what I wanted to work toward,” Alanis said.
Thanks to the First tee, Alanis is well positioned to achieve her goals not only on the golf course, but also in the classroom, and one day, in the doctor’s office.