EAST PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) – This week’s Jefferson Award winner dropped out of high school until two teachers took the time to show him the value of education for his future.

Now with a masters degree in education administration, Robert Hoover pays it forward with a unique program to inspire kids in his community.

He knows his way around a golf course, and how to teach the game. But if you think Robert Hoover’s lessons are just about bogeys and birdies, then you are missing why he started the Junior Golf Program in East Palo Alto 23 years ago.

“What I wanted to do was to use golf as a vehicle to help kids with their personal development, but most of all to really get them to understand the connection between their education and their future,” Robert explained.

Most every day after school, he has been at the Municipal Golf Club, reinforcing life lessons through a sport he loves.

“You have to be honest, because you have to keep your own score. You have to be patient. You have to be persistent,” Robert said. “Golf is a game that requires a lot of things that we would like our kids to have.”

Robert has worked with youth in the East Palo Alto area since the 1960s, but he got the idea to start a golf program when he took a few kids with him to hit balls after work. He began with 10 students. His program has grown to 50.

What’s remarkable is that, in an area where more than half the teens drop out of high school, 90 percent of the kids who have come through Robert’s golf program graduate.

Lorena Cuffy was one of his first students. Family friends introduced them in 1993, after she was expelled from 7th grade.

“He invested a lot of his energy into just like being a second father for me,” said Lorena. “It really transformed my life. I got focused on goals.”

Lorena is one of several program graduates who have gone on to play golf in college. 14-year-old German Orozco and 10-year-old Natalie Mendez would like to follow in her footsteps.

“He’s taught us a lot of important things we need to know,” said German said of Robert.

“(He taught us ) how to be friendly, to be nice, to get a good education,” said Natalie.

Money raised pays for kids’ equipment, tournament fees, and field trips to colleges and the great outdoors.

Through it all, Robert has never taken a salary. At 80-years-old, he still gives his all to the kids.

“Just to watch kids grow and become good people, educated people, confident people, that’s it,” he explained.

So for being a driving force for youth in his community, this weeks Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Robert Hoover.


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