Johnny Wright named 2014 Peggy Kirk Bell Award Winner
PINEHURST, N.C. (July 21, 2014) – Johnny Wright is a 12-year-old golfer from Orlando, Florida. He’s been playing golf since he was four.
Renowned instructor Butch Harmon made a lasting impression when he told young Johnny he “had a good swing.” He started volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club when he was five. He picked out gifts for a Christmas party, set up and served the food and helped with the games.
Not even a teenager yet, Johnny also has a 501(c)3 charitable designation for “A Birthday Party Wish, Inc.” because he, with the help from his sister, family and friends, sponsors birthday parties for underprivileged kids in the Orlando area.
Two years ago he decided not to accept gifts for his own birthday party, instead turning it into a fundraiser to underwrite the parties of kids who had never had their own birthday event.
Because of his passion for golf, his humble nature and his big-time charitable ideas, Johnny Wright has been named the winner of the 2014 Peggy Kirk Bell Award given annually during the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship.
The award is named for and inspired by the lifelong efforts of Peggy Kirk Bell, who is widely considered to be one of the founders and catalysts of women’s golf in America. She is best known for her dedication to teaching the game of golf to women, and in 2002, she became the first woman inducted into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame. Each year since 2007, U.S. Kids Golf has recognized one boy or girl that has demonstrated outstanding philanthropy by making a difference in his or her community.
Johnny and his sister Gabrielle, age 10, partnered with the Christian Service Center of Central Florida. Kids from that organization held a shared monthly party. Through Johnny’s charitable organization, each kid at the center is now able to choose their favorite party location, with gifts, a cake, decorations and invitations provided by A Birthday Party Wish.
Karen Flynn, program director at the Christian Service Center, has been touched by Johnny’s community service and the impact he has made by attending and helping at the parties himself. He has also become a “Big Brother” to 6-year-old Ethan at the Center and provides extra attention to him.
“Families who cannot give their children parties have been overwhelmed by the kind and generous heart of Johnny Wright,” she said. “Children who would otherwise not celebrate their birthday will not forget that he cared enough to make their birthday wish come true.”
Johnny’s favorite party recipient thus far has been Becky, a little girl whose mom had never been able to provide a party for her daughter.
The parties are for any child in need. But there is also a “teaching moment” when Johnny throws a party.
He and Gabrielle also ask the kids who are celebrating their birthday to “pay it forward” by donating one gift from their party to help another child because they know that everyone can make a difference for someone else.
Johnny’s charity has involved his friends, who make up his “Children’s Board of Directors.”
“My friends have helped raise additional money for the charity by volunteering for a huge garage sale. Some friends even donated things for the garage sale and money from their own savings and birthday parties,” Johnny said.
Those early contributions totaled nearly $4,000.
The second local fundraiser in Orlando, along with an online push from friends, corporations and private donations, have vaulted Johnny and Gabrielle over the $15,000 mark.
Even though Johnny is hands-on with his charity, mom Erika says the rising 7th grader has been hooked on golf for a while, getting instruction from his local club pro in Orlando.
“We wouldn’t call ourselves a ‘golfing family,’ but my son has brought us into the world of golf,” said the proud mom. “Several years ago he picked up an old set of clubs and went out on the range. That’s when I saw his passion and how serious he was. So I bought him a new set of clubs.
“I started to notice that he would come home after playing, clean his clubs every night, and watch golf on TV. I could see the pride he took in his golf game from top to bottom because he was truly in love with the game.”
It was then she also saw a sense of independent commitment and knew he was where he belonged.
Erika Wright will be in her usual spot – carrying Johnny’s bag – when he makes his first trip to Pinehurst for the World Championship. He will also be playing as the Peggy Kirk Bell Award recipient.
“Winning this award is important to me because it will help increase awareness among the golf community for my charity, which will help me raise more money,” the young party-giver admitted. “My goal for next year is to host a golf tournament fundraiser and get my golf buddies involved in helping out.”
Johnny knows that celebrating life is what “A Birthday Party Wish is about – one wish and one birthday party at a time.”