At this point, Cassie Wang can’t even remember what tournament she was driving to a year ago when her mother woke her up as the car passed Joplin, Mo.
But she does know that even that passing glimpse of destruction caused by the mile-wide EF5 tornado, which killed 160 people May 22, 2011, had a profound impact.
“It was life-changing,” said Wang, who will be a senior at Olathe Northwest in the fall. “Throughout the whole tournament, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could help them. We were not even really up close. There are so many roads closed, so we could only see the devastation off in the distance.”
Still, seeing the aftermath of the most damaging — estimates put the losses at $2.8 billion — and second-deadliest twister in U.S. history stayed with Wang.
It’s her response, raising $1,000 to aid the relief the effort and founding a student-run charity at the school, that truly sets Wang apart and helped her earn the United State Golf Association/American Junior Golf Association Presidents’ Leadership Award.
The award, which is given annually to one male and one female junior golfer who demonstrates leadership, character and community service through Leadership Links, a joint initiative co-founded by the organizations in 20120 to develop volunteerism among junior golfers.
Inspired to act after seeing Joplin firsthand, Wang sought donations from local businesses, family and friends for every birdie she made on the junior golf circuit last summer. The pledges, which benefitted recovery efforts, totaled nearly $1,000.
But Wang, who is student class president at Olathe Northwest, wasn’t ready to stop there when school resumed in August.
“I didn’t want to have that be the end,” Wang said. “That’s why last fall I started the Youth Hope Fund, small non-profit charity that is completely student-run.”
With help from “ probably 20 students from all over the KC metro,” Wang said, the organization has raised more than $6,000 and provided 16 grants to help feed, clothe and educate kids around the globe, including a project in earthquake-stricken China.
“Our focus returned to Joplin for this spring’s main project,” Wang said. “We donated another $1,000 to the recovery effort. We also volunteered to remove rocks and debris from residential lots, so new houses could be built.
“People start to forget that the recovery is still going on. Right after it happened, there were a lot of people there to help out, but even now there’s still a lot that can be done to help the people in Joplin.”
USGA President Jim Hyler and AJGA Board of Directors President Gayle Champagne will honor Wang during the Rolex Dinner of Champions on June 25 in Alpharetta, Ga.
She also will receive a spot in the Rolex Tournament of Champions field, the most prestigious junior golf stroke-play event in the nation, as well as four tickets to a U.S. Open tournament of her choice.
Wang, who was selected as the Kenneth Smith Award winner in the fall as the top girls high school golfer in Kansas City and won the Midwest PGA Junior Student-Athlete of the Year Award, also will play in the USA vs. China Cup.
“This is probably one of my greatest accomplishments yet, because it’s on a national scale,” Wang said. “When I found out, I was honestly just speechless. The support and recognition feels good.”