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Autistic Kids on the Links in Eastchester

EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – It all started at a fundraiser dinner three years ago. The money raised at the dinner, held by the Ladies Golf Club of Lake Isle in Eastchester, was to be donated to benefit autistic children.

"Phillis [MacDonald] said, 'Wouldn't it be nice if we could have the kids play golf with us,'" said Donna DeMarco.

But MacDonald said her comment would not have amounted to anything without DeMarco, who organized the program along with golf pro Dave Stevenson, and along with the second annual celebratory barbecue held at the club on Tuesday night.

"Donna is the one who made all of this happen," MacDonald said.

While DeMarco, Stevenson, and the rest of the golfers are still debating who should get the credit, Eastchester High School counselor Heather Palmieri said it is the children who are reaping the benefits.

Palmieri said that about 15 children, dubbed "The Lucky Charms," attend Lake Isle every Wednesday during the school year to play golf under the direction of Stevenson.

"It isn't just about the golf," said Palmieri. "It's about learning to interact with each other and other people."

Palmieri said the change she has seen in her students since the program began two years ago is remarkable. "Their focus has improved, their social skills have improved and their golf game has improved," Palmieri said. "Now I walk by them and they are talking about golf."

Their teammates are also talking about them.

"We love doing it," said Mary Everett of working with the kids.

Pat Olin, said her teammate, 15-year-old Kevin Kujawa, of Yonkers, hit a chip out of a sand trap at tonight’s tournament.

"My excitement for his shot eclipses the excitement I have felt over any shot I have ever made," Olin said.

Golf Pro Stevenson said that DeMarco is the driving force behind the 52 member Ladies Golf Club.

"They are amazing, they have benefits to support these kids, breast cancer and the local food bank," he said.

DeMarco, who is in her seventeenth year at the club, and has been the top player for nine years, said that the work she does at the club benefits her most of all.

"We all have a great time," she said.

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