25 Years of Impact: How TGR Foundation continues the late Earl Woods’ legacy of caring and sharing
When I began working at TGR Foundation 16 years ago, I was tasked with developing college-access and readiness programs. At the time, I knew we were setting out to help high schoolers and their families plan for higher education, but I truly didn’t know how deep and expansive our impact would run.
Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, passed in May 2006, and following his death came the birth of the Earl Woods Scholar Program, supported by donations in honor of his life’s work. Building this program in Earl’s name was and is a testament to his life-long belief in paying kindness forward and his legacy of “caring and sharing.” The program launched with a small group of five scholars from high schools in the Orange County, CA region and has grown into a truly unique scholarship program with scholars spanning the country.
First and foremost, the program is a second family for both the staff and the scholars we serve. It goes beyond the scholars themselves and extends to their parents, guardians, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Their college journey and all the challenges, successes and celebrations are something we are in together with them. The wrap around services – mentorship, career development, internship guidance, advisement and more ensure our scholars have access to a support system and a multitude of resources.
One of the components of the program scholars are always excited about is being matched with a mentor who serves as a coach and advocate for them. Our mentors are professionals in a variety of career fields who volunteer their time and develop deep bonds with our scholars over the four-plus years of their college journey. The scholars appreciate having someone in their corner to assist them with their journey given the majority of our scholars, 92 percent, are the first in their families to attend college.
When the scholars reach graduation, many mentors have shared that their lives have changed because of their relationship with their mentee. Seeing these relationships develop and flourish over the years has been rewarding.
The scholars have helped shape the program as we strive to meet their many needs. About six years after its launch, one of our male scholars reached out with concern that he did not have the proper attire for an interview. I later connected with several other scholars who were in similar situations. From that point forward, we have made a commitment to provide our scholars with attire to build their professional wardrobe. It’s been a highlight of our annual Winter Workshop retreat, where they have an opportunity to gain tips and select an outfit that fits their style and chosen profession. I have so many memories from the past 16 years, and ultimately, they all stir up a similar emotion in me – a feeling of tremendous gratitude to play a role in the success of our hardworking, driven scholars.
From its inception in Orange County, CA, the Earl Woods Scholar Program soon expanded to Washington, D.C. We then added cohorts from Boston, MA and New York, NY followed by the most recent expansion to Los Angeles, CA in 2019. Along the way, we added a new model in which students are selected as 11th graders and gain support from our team throughout their senior year of high school as they approach college admissions and financial aid processes. Scholars in our 11th grade cohorts also experience home visits conducted by my team and me. Having the opportunity to go into our scholars’ homes and connect with their families on their hopes, dreams and fears regarding their college and career journey has been humbling. I have seen a multitude of emotions from parents and shared my personal experiences as a daughter, mother and former college student during our meetings.
This has truly become my life’s work. As I reflect on the more than 250 scholars in the program and over 3,000 students, families and educators served through our broader college-access outreach, I think back to my own experiences as a first-generation student. My dad taught me the importance of living a full life. As a young Mexican girl, my purpose was to get married and be a good wife, but my dad greatly valued education and always pushed me to follow my dreams.
From a young age, I knew that I would attend a university and achieve more with his support. He was an amazing chauffeur during my first year at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and never complained about the long commute to visit on the weekends. I did not realize it then, but I learned to take risks because of his example. I am still in awe today of my parents’ immigration to the United States and navigating it all despite the struggles and challenges they faced. It is what I think about when I push our scholars out of their comfort zone to continue to thrive and grow.
The Earl Woods Scholar Program is built around giving back and paying it forward. Earl’s family motto was focused on “caring and sharing” and the scholars in the program that is his namesake are representatives of those values. We will continue to expand across the country with scholars from coast to coast who are impacting and giving back to their communities.
Building students success for 25 years.
Cristina Fernández is the senior director of programs and oversees the Earl Woods Scholar Program and all college-access and readiness initiatives. These programs are supported by TGR Live events and our generous community of donors, partners and volunteers. To join us in building accessible pathways to success for underserved youth visit TGRFoundation.org/PathwaysForward.
This story is part of a series highlighting 25 years of impact through TGR Foundation programs.