WEST PALM BEACH — Nine-year-old Rafe Cochran was missing and his parents were “frantic.”
But Rafe had a plan. He knew what he wanted, and while touring the Food For the Poor headquarters in Coconut Creek he decided to put that plan into action. He broke away from his parents, Diahann and Jay Cochran, and asked for the director’s office. He then walked in unannounced.
“I want to help you,” he said. “I’m going to raise money.”
And so it began. An idea that started with a guest speaker when Rafe, now 17, was in the third grade at Palm Beach Day Academy has grown into him raising money through golf to build 10 houses in Haiti and rebuild and renovate four schools in Jamaica.
And he is not through. The sixth annual Rafe Cochran Golf Classic was held Friday at Trump International Golf Club with proceeds going toward renovating and rebuilding McGrath High School in Treadways, Jamaica. The event is expected to raise about $150,000.
“Rafe is born for a purpose,” said Delane Bailey-Herd, the partnerships director for Food For the Poor and the guest speaker that day at Palm Beach Day Academy. “I reiterate the things that Rafe says — ‘You are never too young to take action and make a difference.’
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“Rafe is a leader in his generation to be able to do this.”
Bailey-Herd was 17 when she arrived in this country from Jamaica. She relayed her experiences of having to walk 7 miles round trip to go to school to Rafe and his classmates that day eight years ago.
“Some of the kids were laughing but Rafe took it seriously,” she said. “He came to me at the end of my presentation and he said, ‘I’m going to help you.'”
Next stop was a conversation at home that Diahann and Jay did not see coming.
“From that moment he was at Palm Beach Day, Delane spoke to the school and he came home he said, ‘Mom, I have to be part of this. I have to help,'” Diahann said. “Rafe just really wanted to get involved.
“He’s taken us on the most incredible journey.”
Two missions: Help poor, play pro golf
In this day and age of name, image and likeness for college and, in some states, high school athletes, Rafe Cochran is the antithesis of the escalating greed and selfishness trending in athletics.
Rafe is a junior at Oxbridge Academy who played varsity golf as a freshman and sophomore and has decided to play tournament golf this season. He has raised more than $600,000 since embarking on this calling. Now, he has two missions in life: to build and rebuild homes and schools in impoverished countries and play professional golf.
“When I got exposed to it, it hit me hard and I realized that I really wanted to help,” Rafe said. “Something within me said this is what I want to do. After I talked to Delane and we discussed the magnitude of what was going on in these countries, I knew I had to do something.”
So 9-year-old Rafe built a spreadsheet for people to pledge when he made an eagle or birdie or par at his next tournament. He shot a 34 for nine holes at Osprey Point in Boca Raton and soon had raised about $6,000 that went to Food For the Poor and was enough to build his first house in Haiti.
“I went to Haiti a couple of years later, and that’s when the impact set in,” said Rafe, who is from Palm Beach. “It’s one of the most unbelievable experiences anyone, especially from a country like we live, can experience. Just the magnitude of what is going on there is so powerful. That’s kind of where the will for what I’m doing really started to pick up.”
About three years after raising his first dollar, Rafe had bigger dreams that went beyond Haiti.
The Rafe Cochran Golf Classic was born.
By this time, Diahann and Jay probably were prepared for anything and just listened as their now 12-year-old wanted to start raising hundreds of thousands of dollars through a golf tournament.
They listened to Rafe’s idea to run a charity event and had questions. Lots of questions. Neither parent is a golfer and they told him they would not know where to begin with such an ambitious project.
“He just said: ‘I do. I know how to play golf. I know what I want. If you guys would work for me, I will raise the money,'” Diahann said. “And he did.”
The first event raised about $50,000, which went toward building more houses in Haiti. But Rafe soon turned his attention to rebuilding and renovating schools, and visited Jamaica.
Education is the way
Rafe was proud of the houses he built in Haiti and called that life-changing for him, but said building a home was a “Band-Aid” to a much greater problem.
“Poverty as a whole is what I really want to impact the most,” he said. “I believe one of the biggest ways to break the cycle of poverty in these developing countries is through education.
“I wanted to move toward the youth. I wanted to move toward educating these kids because in these areas a good education is rare. I want to build that environment where kids can be educated because education will last with them forever.”
Rafe has taken several trips to Jamaica, many with Bailey-Herd, and rebuilt four schools — Chester Primary and Infant School, Runaway Bay School, Iona High School, Holland High School — all on the northern coastal area of the island.
All are schools in which roofs leaked and classrooms were in such disrepair that students were forced to sit outside. The principal at Runaway Bay told Bailey-Herd he had been waiting 10 years for help.
And the country’s minister of education was stunned to see the man behind these fundraisers and rebuilds was a kid.
“He thought Rafe was an old retiree,” Bailey-Herd said. “Rafe’s presentations are way beyond his years.”
Rafe not only inspects each project, he is very particular about which ones he chooses. He selects schools with the greatest needs. And he sometimes meets and speaks with the children first and even played soccer with a group from one school.
Once the construction is completed, it’s time for Rafe and his team to get to work. Often he will fly down with his family, Bailey-Herd and others to check out the work and help paint the school.
“It wasn’t enough for him to just to do the funding,” Bailey-Herd said. “He wants to touch it and feel it and put his labor into it.”
Working harder than ever on golf game
Rafe was about 7 when he started playing golf. He said it came “naturally” but added he had to work on his game and continues that work “harder than ever.” His handicap is about a 2.
He put together a team for Friday’s event, one of 24 foursomes.
“A driving factor (for staying with golf) is to help Food For the Poor because the way we raised money is golf-focused,” he said.
“But my love for golf and my passion for golf and my goals for where I want to go with golf are because I want to be a pro. I want to be the best I can. I want to win. That’s kind of where my drive for golf is. That’s kind of what I dedicated my life to.”
That dedication goes well beyond golf.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Golf helps 17-year-old from Florida build houses, schools in Haiti, Jamaica