“I feel like I was put on this Earth to do more than chase a white ball around a golf course.”

This quote from Zach Johnson — the 40-year-old golfer who is currently ranked 18th in the world — explains why he established the Zach Johnson Foundation to help kids and families in Iowa.

Zach was born in Iowa City and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Zach, his wife, Kim, and their children currently reside in Georgia, but he has never forgotten Cedar Rapids. Kim refers to herself as I.B.M. – Iowan by Marriage. The Zach Johnson Foundation is a charitable organization with the goal of improving education, health, and quality of life for kids.

Every summer, the Zach Johnson Foundation holds a two-part event in Cedar Rapids to raise money for Iowa kids. The event includes an evening gala followed by a golf tournament the next day at the country club where Zach perfected his golf game.

I attended the Zach Johnson Foundation Gala for the third time in June 2016. Each year at the gala, the Foundation delivers a report of their activities. I was especially impressed with the results for their Kids on Course program.

Kids on Course is a joint partnership with the Cedar Rapids school system and United Way. It is an incredible program that engages children who are below the expected reading level in fifth grade. The program includes tutoring, enrichment, parent engagement strategies, and health support — in short, whatever it takes to help these kids succeed.

Kids on Course currently serves three elementary and two middle schools in Cedar Rapids. Including the six-week summer program, there are 800 Cedar Rapids students enrolled in Kids on Course. As these kids learn and grow, Kids on Course will expand into the high schools, eventually following these kids to college.

Zach Johnson says he is a numbers guy, and towards that end, the Foundation uses school system data to measure the progress of Kids on Course:

  • 94% of students in the program show year-over-year reading improvement.
  • 43% of them show greater than year-over-year reading improvement.

These numbers amaze me — what a testament to the Johnsons’ dedication to education, hard work, and community.

The second part of the event, the Zach Johnson Pro-Am charity golf classic, was held June 27, 2016, in Cedar Rapids. In attendance were such pros as Jim Furk, Rickie Fowler, Gerina Piller, Mallory Blackwelder, John Daly, and Jordan Spieth. Special guests included former “The Bachelor” star Chris Soules (also from Iowa), former NFL player Danan Hughes, and actor Riley Smith (another Iowa native).

Last year, more than 2,500 spectators attended the golf tournament. The cost of a ticket? Free.

The Zach Johnson Foundation’s Kids on Course program is a boots on the ground, grind it out every day program. It is hard work, and it’s effective with Zach and Kim Johnson at the helm.

I believe the best use of our lives is to make the world a better place. The Johnsons are doing that, writ large. While we may not be able to work on the scale of Zach and Kim Johnson, almost anyone can do something to give back to the community.  For me it is being on charitable and civic boards as well as volunteering as a paramedic for a nearby rural community.  Zach was right — he was meant to do more than chase a little white ball around a golf course.

Mission accomplished.

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