With her son Jason as a driving force, Renee Fluker founded the Midnight Golf Program, a nonprofit supporting young adults with life skills training, mentoring and career support through the discipline of golf. Jason began playing golf when he was 10 years old and loved the game. However, he would get upset being the only child of color on the golf course. It caused him a lot of distress, said Fluker.
“Mom,” he asked, “when I go away to college, will you please start a program and change this?”
When Jason left for college in 2000, Fluker committed herself to creating a program to support student success and teach golf. Drawing on her background in social work, she worked alone at a desk in the corner of her bedroom. In February 2001, the Midnight Golf Program was born.
That first year, Fluker and 17 students met at a small community center in Detroit to learn golf skills as an offshoot of a safe streets project called Midnight Basketball. (Now you know why Midnight Golf is the name of a student success program.)
Today, the program works with 250 high school seniors a year and is well-known and well-respected in the Detroit area. The Midnight Golf Program provides more than golf lessons. The program is an opportunity to set students on a path to success through academic, personal and life learning.
Students learn more than golf
Since its inaugural year, the program has grown to include a 30-week curriculum focused on college readiness, financial literacy, community activism, life skills and more. Twice a week, everyone gathers after school to hear speakers, dine, golf and meet with mentors.
Some of the students have never been out of Detroit. Midnight Golf gives them the opportunity to travel to college campuses with its Road Trip to Success, a week-long out-of-state visit to colleges.
In 2023, the tour focused on colleges and universities in Atlanta, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C. The trip is heavily subsidized because most participants come from low-to-moderate-income families, so the students pay $200 to participate or apply for full subsidies. The 2023 tour included 238 students and 60 mentors on six buses. “There is nothing like the bonding we see on this trip,” said Fluker.
Measuring success one student at a time
Last year, there were more than 1,500 applicants from 61 schools. That’s 25 percent of Detroit public school seniors. Young people in Detroit clearly want to learn and grow, and 100 percent of the students who complete the Midnight Golf Program have a plan and attend college, trade school, or join the military.“School districts just don’t invest in counselors like the students need. Our program prepares students for college and helps them decide what their right fit college is.”
Fluker’s team continues the mission to support students during college. Midnight Golf’s College Support Team checks in with its college students every month. If things are going well, they encourage the students and may give them rewards such as merch or a gift card. If there are problems, the counselors can help brainstorm solutions and keep students on track with their learning and life.
Midnight Golf alumni have formed chapters on college campuses, including Bowling Green State, Delaware State, Michigan State, University of Michigan and others. The alumni chapters meet once a month to stay connected and fundraise for the program.
The Midnight Golf Program works. Not only do its participants attend college, but they also finish. The program’s college graduation rate is 70 percent, about four times the average in Detroit. Many alumni have shared their success stories with Fluker, including one early participant who became a doctor and has her own clinic in Washington, D.C.
How Fluker drives the Midnight Golf Program
When asked what keeps her motivated, Fluker said, “The kids. You’re not going to make money doing this work, but you will be rich watching these children grow up and succeed.”
Funders like the results, too—recently, a supporter donated a 44,000 sq foot building. Plans are underway to move in by early 2024. From the corner of her bedroom working alone to a large building with a staff of 12 which is expected to double in the next year, Renee Fluker has changed the lives of more than 3,700 students.
Many of these students return to mentor and volunteer in the Midnight Golf Program, including Fluker’s son. Jason now sits on the Board of Directors, has helped fundraise, and was a mentor before starting his own family. He’s so proud of all his mother has built. And Fluker is content seeing the success of her students and the role the Midnight Golf Program plays in helping them.
Read How to Make a Difference in Your Community for tips on becoming a changemaker in your neighborhood.