A gratitude letter to Arthur Blank from First Tee participant Nathan Vertes 

Dear Mr. Blank, 

Hello, my name is Nathan Vertes. I was honored to participate in the 2023 First Tee PGA TOUR Superstore Leadership Summit last week at your beautiful West Creek Ranch and felt like I needed to follow up on my thank you note. I have never seen such a beautiful place. I met wonderful people, experienced awe inspiring adventures, took risks and learned many new skills. When I was asked to participate in the Leadership Series at your PGA TOUR Superstore last spring, I had no idea how much it would help me for my volunteer mission with a nonprofit called Project Zawadi. The five-week Leadership Series gave me some answers I was seeking and helped me dig deeper into myself to come up with new ideas that I could implement. After the Montana Leadership Summit, I am even more motivated and realize how I CAN make a better, larger impact now and far into the future. 

I became involved with Project Zawadi when I was in 7th grade, about 5 and a half years ago. One day my mom and I stopped at a park and saw a lady named Rhonda Barona getting aluminum cans out of the garbage. With my curiosity piqued, I asked her what she was doing and she said that she was helping build schools in Tanzania. She mentioned that there were 150 boys with only one teacher, writing in the dirt with sticks due to lack of educational material, and that girls didn’t attend because they had to walk for water all day. Project Zawadi made it possible for all the kids to attend school by building classrooms and school facilities and donating supplies. Last year, they installed pipelines in four villages for running water. Many of the kids walk five miles to school each day and are required to pick up two sticks so they can build a fire to cook their one meal for the day. The teachers and students planted gardens so they can feed themselves and provide surplus food to their families. 

Since 7th grade, I have been collecting aluminum cans out of recycling bins in the neighborhoods around our house. Along with Rhonda, we take them to the recycling center and get $.50-.60 cents per pound. Last year was our best year yet and we collected 4,000 pounds of cans, which was a little over $2,000.

Originally, I figured collecting cans was a way to make money without asking people for donations, but as I was getting older and busier I realized it is too time consuming with endless hours of gathering, crushing and delivering cans for little return. To be successful in my school work, sports and other philanthropy ventures, I needed to work smarter. My tactics evolved throughout the years, and I was always looking for ways to do better. For instance, last year I spoke to the manager of Madison Green Golf course, where my high school practiced and they gathered cans for me for a short time until it took too much time from their workers and needed to stop. I was appreciative for the help they gave me. 

After the Leadership Series, many of the exercises we did started triggering more ideas for me. I felt more confident and became more vocal in asking for donations. In several instances it led to people giving me donations. In the summers, we spend time in Michigan, a state that has a mandatory $.10 deposit on cans. With this in mind, I created and distributed flyers, and people provided me with cans by the bag full, making significantly more money than in Florida. I turned to social media, and with my posts, more and more people started saving their cans for me. I approached businesses and started writing to foundations. Obtaining a larger donation hasn’t panned out yet, but thanks to the values learned at the Leadership Summit, I know perseverance is key and that I will be successful in these endeavors.

I look forward to one day visiting the schools so I can volunteer in person. I realize how lucky I am to live in America, where education is a basic right. Every child in the world deserves an education and to have all of their basic needs met so they can learn skills to help lift themselves out of poverty. By working hard, going to college, networking on the golf course and having a successful career, I will be able to help a lot more kids. For right now, I will be bold and keep taking action by working hard and doing my best. I really appreciate all that First Tee and your organization has taught me and I will work toward becoming a person who can give back more and more throughout my life. Thank you for being such a blessing to all of us young golfers and to so many people! 


Nathan Vertes 
First Tee – Florida Gold Coast