April 19, 2013

Golfer hopes ‘fore’ support during cross-country journey to raise money for student scholarships

Inspired by the movie Forrest Gump, 24-year-old Luke Bielawski plans to hit a golf ball across the country from California to South Carolina in the hope of raising $100,000 to fund 12 scholarships at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Inspired by the movie Forrest Gump, 24-year-old Luke Bielawski plans to hit a golf ball across the country from California to South Carolina in the hope of raising $100,000 to fund 12 scholarships at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Luke Bielawski laughs when he mentions that some people tell him that his idea is crazy.

At the same time, other people smile when they tell the 24-year-old Catholic how cool his plan sounds.

So judge for yourself.

Starting on May 8, Bielawski plans to spend the next 110 days hitting a golf ball across the country—from California to South Carolina—in the hopes of raising at least $100,000 to help at-risk youths receive a Catholic education in high school.

He figures it will take him about 48,000 shots—an average of 436 drives, chips and putts a day—across a desert, around mountains, down country roads, over rivers and through numerous other natural and man-made obstacles before his self-described “unique and fun adventure of a lifetime” comes to an end.

And if his “From Tee to Shining Tee” journey sounds cool and/or crazy, then so is the story of how Bielawski came up with the plan to combine two passions in his life.

It’s a plan that owes a debt to Forrest Gump.

‘You truly see God working his magic’

During the summer of 2012, Bielawski’s thoughts revolved around two passions.

One of his passions is playing golf. Another is trying to help at-risk youths receive a Catholic education at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis, a college preparatory school that combines academics with a work-study program that lets its students from mostly low-income backgrounds experience different career possibilities.

“I’ve always wanted to help the youth in my community get a college preparatory Catholic education because I saw how truly transformative that time was in my life—because of the Catholic influence,” says Bielawski, a 2007 graduate of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.

“Those years had a profound impact on my life. I want to give back, to help at-risk youth attend such a school so they’ll have the same transformative experience.”

He became aware of Providence Cristo Rey when his parents—Joe and Julie—began exploring the possibility of having their small business be one of the corporate work-study sites for the school’s students. He became impressed when he made a visit to the school.

“You truly see God working his magic when the passing periods [times between classes] roll around,” he says. “These are students who ride as many as three buses each morning to go to school. They’re in classes for long hours four days a week, they’re involved after school, and on the fifth day they go to their work-study experience. They’re extremely busy, and yet when passing period rolls around, they’re energetic and excited to get to the next class. It’s just remarkable to see.”

So Bielawski thought it would be great to start a fundraiser that would raise $100,000 to pay for 12 scholarships to the school. Yet he struggled for months to find a way that would capture people’s imaginations enough to make them want to learn about Providence Cristo Rey and contribute to helping students attend there.

He was still searching for something “unique, fun and adventurous” when he watched the movie Forrest Gump in October.

“Forrest ran across the country,” Bielawski says with a smile, before slipping into the character’s distinctive drawl and sharing a few lines from the movie. “When he made it across the country, the light bulb went on. I said this is what I want to do. I’ve been planning it ever since.”

A call from out of the blue

Kathryn Densborn meets many special people in her role as vice president of institutional advancement and corporate work study at Providence Cristo Rey. She won’t ever forget Bielawski or her first meeting with him.

“Luke called out of the blue and asked to see the school,” Densborn recalls. “I love showing people Providence Cristo Rey, so I met with him. I gave him a tour and then we sat down to talk. I still had no idea why he called. He began by saying—rather apologetically—that he loves golf, and he loves helping non-profits. Then he began to explain his project. My first thought was, ‘This is Forrest Gump running across the country!’

“As he explained it further—all the details, the planning, the calculations—I began thinking of the all the possibilities. It has great potential for national sponsorships, networking and publicity. It really was like a gift from God.”

She has the same feeling about Bielawski.

“Luke is inspiring,” she says. “Here is a young man who has a unique idea, and he’s invested the time and energy to make it come alive—calculating the number of golf balls and number of strokes, researching the route, and identifying churches, companies and people to connect with along the way. Usually, people get a good idea and then don’t follow through because other things get in the way. Luke has made this a priority.”

Bielawski will begin the journey after he completes his semester finals at Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis. His cousin, Nick Bielawski, will be with him during the 110 days.

“We’ve got a truck that’s going to pull a 28-foot camper trailer, and they’ve both been donated,” says Bielawski, a member of Holy Spirit at Geist Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “There will be a utility vehicle that’s a makeshift golf cart for me to go from shot to shot. I’ll be taking about 2,000 balls to start.”

His eyes light up when he thinks about hitting shots through the desert.

“I can’t wait to get to the desert. I plan on hitting a three wood for maximum distance,” he says with a smile. “Our route won’t go over any mountains. We’ll be going around them. There will be some tough lies, but it’s all doable.”

Trying to live a life that says thank you

Bielawski has already made a trial run of his estimated 2,500-mile journey.

“We’ve logged about 50 miles out in the cornfields, playing the ball where it lies, like we will on the trip,” he says. “I’ve hit through corn fields, soybean fields and tilled land. I’ve hit through yards, over rivers and highways, and putted across bridges. I’ve been hitting 400 to 500 balls a day.”

All the time, he has kept his focus on raising money and awareness for Providence Cristo Rey while enjoying and finishing the country-wide course.

“I will finish even if we lose 40,000 golf balls,” he says. “I hope we touch a lot of people, and perhaps inspire some. We want to have an unforgettable adventure, meet people from all walks of life, see the beautiful landscape and overcome the challenges that all adventures have.”

He knows the challenges and adventures that Providence Cristo Rey students experience, too—learning about them from Densborn.

“When a student first arrives at Providence Cristo Rey, they don’t fully understand what they are going to experience,” Densborn says. “They don’t understand what the scholarships, the job experiences, new skills and connections mean. The realization comes when they get to college. That’s when it becomes real—everything they’ve worked for and what they’ve been given—and they realize they can do it.

“That is the transformation that’s happening here. People who donate know that this transformation is real, and they can help someone experience it. Giving someone the ability to change their life is inspiring and enriching.”

Bielawski has known that transformation from his Catholic education. His faith guides him to want to make that transformation available for others.

“My faith is my rock,” he says. “I want to live a life that is worthy of accepting the grace of God. Through his grace, we’re given new hearts. I’m trying to live a life that says thank you, that is worthy of his grace.”

(For more information about Luke Bielawski’s adventure-fundraiser, log on to the website, www.getonthegreen.org.)

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