Midnight Golf Program: Guiding Metro-Detroit Students Through College & Beyond

by The Vella Group

Published On: June 14, 2023Categories: Insights, Nonprofit Profiles

About 220 high school students with Detroit’s Midnight Golf Program (MGP) hit the road for an action-packed college tour this spring, visiting eight schools in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina in just under a week.

This annual event is called “Road Trip for Success” for a reason. Not only do participants visit college campuses, they tour museums, attend formal group dinners and, of course, play golf at local country clubs. Like every aspect of the Midnight Golf Program, the trip is about more than just getting into college — it’s about students gaining life skills that will help them achieve success through college, career, life.

It’s also about opportunity. Students in the program come from the Detroit area where more than 70% of school children live at or below poverty, according to U.S Census data. Many have never dined at a country club or attended an art exhibit. Some have never traveled outside of Michigan. For them, it’s a shot at positive personal transformation.

What is the Midnight Golf Program?

Midnight Golf Program, a Detroit nonprofit, accepts 250 determined and under-served high school seniors each year (out of more than 1,000 applicants) for a 30-week curriculum of mentoring and empowerment. Student groups gather with staff and mentors twice a week to learn life and professional skills: interpersonal skills, time management, public speaking, networking, financial literacy, college readiness and more. They also share a meal and learn how to play golf.

Why golf? Reneé Fluker, a native Detroiter, social worker and single mother who founded the organization in 2001, credits her son, an avid student golfer, as the inspiration. At one of his tournaments in Florida, she connected with Earnie Ellison Jr., the former director of business and community relations for the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of America. Ellison noticed her commitment to her son and encouraged her to start a golf-based youth group in Detroit.

Fluker saw the positive impact golf had on her son’s life — sportsmanship, discipline, networking — and with his encouragement and the help of others in the community, the Midnight Golf Program was born. The organization started as an outgrowth of Midnight Basketball, an initiative designed to curb inner-city crime by engaging urban youth in late-night sports programming. Since then, the name has evolved, taking on greater meaning.

As Fluker sees it, “Playing golf at night is impossible unless someone shines a light. The program uses the game of golf to give young people a brighter vision of their future.”

Steady Growth & Impactful Results

Since its humble beginnings in 2001, the organization has helped more than 4,000 metro Detroit high school students navigate the challenges of college and move on to successful and rewarding careers. These are young people with limited guidance and support systems who wouldn’t normally have access to these vital resources.

The program, based on researched learning methods, has been tested and refined over the years. And corporate, community and college partnerships have helped fuel steady growth.

MGP added its Road Trip for Success in 2004. “We started with one busload of kids that first year,” said Fluker. “Now, we’re up to six.” The trip, primarily funded with corporate and community donations, costs $1,700 per student. Each road trip participant is asked to contribute $300, however, scholarships are available for those who can’t cover the cost.

In 2018, MGP set up its College Success Program where four full-time coaches host financial aid, college and career events, and connect with students to make sure they have the guidance and resources needed to identify their best fit college or university, transition to campus life and graduate. The results are impressive:

  • 70% college graduation rate – four times higher than Detroit students
  • 1,500 students currently represented at 137 colleges and universities, including 30% at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
  • $5 million in financial aid earned annually
  • 100% class of 2022 college acceptance rate
  • 98% class of 2022 college enrollment rate
  • 95% college persistence rate during the 2021-2022 school year

Midnight Golfers for Life

Of course, success wouldn’t be possible without mentors — adult professionals who dedicate considerable time and talent to the program. Fifty-eight mentors attended this year’s Road Trip for Success, offering support and encouragement to their groups of up to six students at every step in the journey.

According to Fluker, the road trip is an emotional experience that really cements relationships between mentors and students. “Everybody’s crying by the end,” she noted. “But they are tears of joy.”

Like many of the program’s mentors, Fluker, who has served in that role since the beginning, keeps in touch with many of her “kids.” One of her first students, who grew up in Jeffries Public Housing, earned her nursing degree at Howard University and her doctorate in nursing practice at Wayne State and now runs her own clinic in Washington D.C.

For many students in the program, Midnight Golf never ends. Fluker is blown away by the number of former MGP students who give back. They become mentors, show up at events and donate to the program.

During the road trip, a former student and now mentor shared her story with a busload of high schoolers. She attended the Midnight Golf Program 10 years ago. Both her parents had passed away, so getting to MGP twice a week was completely up to her. She is now married (Fluker gave her away at the wedding) and working as an engineering team leader.

Her tearful message was clear: “It’s hard to express how much this program has meant to me. I remember being in your shoes 10 years ago. You’ll be in my shoes someday.” There wasn’t a dry eye on the bus.

In May, all 250 students in this year’s program participated in a year-end pinning ceremony at Fellowship Chapel in Detroit. College picks were announced, scholarships were awarded, and students had the opportunity to make a pledge to stay part of the Midnight Golf Program family forever.

“You stay with us, we stay with you,” said Fluker.

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