As the saying goes, when you are down there is no other way than up. The thing is, however, for many people facing an uphill battle, this can be an incredibly difficult source of light to spot. Even if the stars of courage, strength and determination match, the return journey is not a safe bet.
The best first impression is often the result of a second chance.
For more than two decades, Operation New Hope has provided people with a criminal history with a second chance and job to break the cycle of incarceration. As a beneficiary of THE PLAYERS Championship, the Jacksonville-based nonprofit has helped bring correction opportunities to people at the lowest point in their lives.
On Monday, Operation New Hope held its first annual Mulligans for Hope Golf Tournament at the Atlantic Beach Country Club to a packed field.
“The meaning of today is what we’ve been working on all along, bringing the issue to people,” said Kevin Gay, Founder and CEO of Operation New Hope. “Since Covid is still a factor for indoor events, we thought about a golf tournament. And we laughed when we realized that what we’re doing with second chances in real life is like a mulligan in golf. Both are opportunities for correction. “
Not only did the fundraising event attract donors, employers and lawmakers, but it also sparked the interest and involvement of PGA TOUR caddy Eric Larson. The elevated status that Larson enjoys today on TOUR is far from where he came from.
“It’s very special for me to be there,” said Larson, caddy of four-time PGA TOUR winner Harris English. “To be part of something that I’m very familiar with means a lot. An organization totally dedicated to helping people get a second chance was something I didn’t even know existed when I went through it. “
To supplement his income as a caddy, Larson began trading cocaine in the mid-1990s. When a shipment from Florida to Wisconsin was intercepted by authorities, Larson was arrested and heavily charged for trading across state lines. After serving nearly a decade in federal prison, Larson was released in 2005.
“The inclusion of Eric is all the more special because it really enables people to see someone who has had a challenging time in life,” said Gay. “Second chances were so important to him. Check out what so many did on the PGA TOUR. They visited him and stayed with him. That reflects what Operation New Hope is about … second chances. “
Larson does not detract from the impact friends and family had during his incarceration, but he also noted that, even with that support, things do not automatically turn out well.
“Hard work and determination are key,” said Larson. “Mark Calcavecchia told me to do the right thing and he would promise me a job when I got out. That prospect made me work even harder. To be here and be part of the mission, to give a second chance, is something I am very proud of. I know I was given a second chance. “
As a matter of fact. And because of that second chance, since his release from prison 15 years ago, Larson has fought for players in three Ryder Cups, a Presidents Cup, won tournaments with TOUR players and keeps a full-time job with one of those players in English Today.
The process at Operation New Hope is for individuals to step in after they are released from prison or within three years of being charged. It’s a year-long program, but people start out with a two-week career development program. This includes everything from writing résumés to computer literacy and other ways people can be successful at work.
“During these two weeks, program participants will meet and interact with a team designed to support this person,” said Amanda Mahan, director of marketing and communications. “Each person is assigned a case manager who helps with short-term and long-term goals. This includes everything from obtaining a driver’s license on short notice, making amends and re-establishing relationships with family members, and bringing children back. “
Operation New Hope also connects each client with a job coach who will work with them to find the right job for that client. Clients are also paired with a mental health advisor to help them with any remaining trauma or pain.