By Kim Constantinesco
Angelica Harris is still a student, but teaching runs thick through her veins.
The 18-year-old from Harvey, La., fills her after school hours competing on the golf course and giving golf lessons to those with autism.
The impact she’s leaving on her community is why she was honored with the 2016 USGA-AJGA Preseidents’ Leadership Award, given by the United States Golf Association and American Junior Golf Association to one male and one female junior golfer who demonstrate extraordinary leadership and character in their communities.
Because Harris’s younger brother, Jeremiah, falls on the autism spectrum, she recognized a need in that community.
“I’ve seen how difficult it is for him to get to the golf course because golf is a sport in which you have to be quiet, and you can’t move a lot,” Harris said. “Jeremiah has trouble with that. He couldn’t come to my golf tournaments because of that, so I decided to bring golf to him and his friends.”
And she’s bringing so much more to the area in which she lives, and beyond.
Near the Eye of the Storm
Harris is the fourth oldest of six children. Between her, her four brothers and one sister, the Harris household is always hopping with activities, golf being one.
Harris learned how to play from her father at four years old. Today, she has a 4.5 handicap, good enough to play for Washington University in St. Louis starting this fall.
Growing up in a family of eight, Harris learned to do her part at an early age. However, another big life event contributed to her passion for helping others.
When she was six years old, Hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans.
“My family evacuated to where my grandma lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana,” Harris said. “After Katrina hit, we saw all the levees had broken, and at my grandmother’s house, the water was up to the roof.”
Immediately after that, Hurricane Rita hit, which pushed the family into a Jackson, Mississippi hotel room.
Harris and her family were forced out of their house for three weeks. They were among the lucky ones who didn’t have their home completely destroyed. Seeing the devastation, however, propelled Harris to begin a life filled with serving others.
“It was a time when you had to depend on family and friends to help you, so I just tried to give back as much as I could because a lot of people gave to us, especially during the storm,” Harris said.
She has been giving weekly golf lessons, healthy eating information, and sportsmanship tips to those between the ages of four and 30 who fall on the autism spectrum.
“I think golf is the perfect sport for people with autism,” Harris said. “They develop emotionally and physically, and gain a great ability to focus. That’s one of the things people with autism lack. There’s also a lot of repetition in golf, and individuals with autism do better when they have a good routine.”
Because of his sisters work, Jeremiah now plays golf every weekend, setting goals for himself and making it a point to improve each time he visits the course.
“It motivates me to see him playing, and makes me grateful that I get the opportunity to play,” Harris said.
Creating and carrying out the program has also helped her improve her own game.
“Now I know that I’m able to take on a big task,” she said. “It has helped me build more confidence on the golf course because let’s say I’m faced with a difficult shot, and I think I have it in me to hit that shot. I know that if I stay committed to the shot, like I’m committed to those I teach, then I’ll be able to pull it off.”
A Born Leader
That same confidence has transferred to other areas of her life, too.
As a junior in high school, Harris initially struggled with the ACT. She scored a 17 on her first test. Then she developed a new reading strategy, and within a matter of a few weeks, her score jumped into the 30’s.
Knowing she had some unique tricks up her sleeves, she started Angelica’s Intense Standardized Prep Course, and implemented three ACT prep classes across New Orleans. Word of her program spread all the way to the west, so now she is tutoring four students from California. Eventually, she wants to create online video lessons to help those who are struggling to bring their scores up.
With education and service being a high priority for Harris, she also introduced a scholarship program to Angelica’s Angles. The $1,800 award will be given away in August at the Kelly Gibson Foundation to a high school senior who demonstrates exemplary community service, much like Harris, who has devoted over 800 hours of her time to service work in the last few years.
“It will go to someone who goes above and beyond for an organization and leaves it a lot better than before they came to it,” Harris said.
Come fall, Harris will start a new chapter of her life at Washington University, ranked 15th in the nation in academics. She will enter Olin Business School, where she intends to work in finance, and eventually become the CEO of a large company. When her nose isn’t in the books, she’ll be hitting the links with her new team.
And outside of that, you can be sure to find her making the world a better place to live in, and perhaps giving a few valuable lessons along the way.