February 05, 2016

Celebrating 10 years of extraordinary programs

Last week, staff and supporters gathered to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the foundation’s two marquee programs: the Tiger Woods Learning Center and the Earl Woods Scholarship Program. 

Many who gathered to celebrate had been involved since the beginning — from staff members hired to develop curriculum, to community members instrumental in drumming up support, to students who benefited from the programs since day one. 

Foundation CEO Rick Singer opened the reception by noting the programs’ extraordinary origins. 

“What it took to first come up with the idea, what it took to then develop the strategy, to execute it, to build it, to end up with this magnificent facility and a scholar program, is really an amazing story,” Singer said. “And you’ll see there are a lot of heroes in this story.”

Several of those heroes shared their reflections from the last decade.

Learning Center instructor Ian Esmilla has been introducing students to STEM at the TWLC since the early days. He shared the impact the program has had on his life, as well. 

“For a young person to change the world, they need to change themselves,” Esmilla said. “Truth be told, this building has changed my world. A lot of you guys know, I never thought I was going to be a teacher, and now I’m inspiring kids to be a marine scientist, a robotic engineer, an aerospace engineer. And I love it when kids call me a genius. I love it.”

As superintendent of the Anaheim City School District at the time of inception, board member Sandy Barry was involved before blueprints were even created. She talked about Tiger’s plan and what he hoped to create for the students.

“First, he really wanted to create a safe place for kids to come after school where they could begin to change their lives, because we were targeting students from underserved neighborhoods,” Barry said. “And second, he really wanted to close the opportunity gap for these kids. We wanted to give kids opportunities they never knew existed, at least not for them. In that first meeting, we talked about our students: how bright they were, how eager they were to learn, about all the potential they had, and how they wanted to be successful.”

Eric Don was one of the first students in the door of the Tiger Woods Learning Center. He spoke about the lifelong legacy the staff and teachers have on each person that walks into the TWLC.

“When I look back now on all of the planning that is involved in creating a learning center like this, they had everything so spot on,” Don said. “It wasn’t just learning, but they knew everything that kids liked and enjoyed. As students, it’s not like you’re here four years and then you’re done and you leave the TWLC behind. You still have a place to go to, you still have those connections, you still have that to help you moving forward.”

Bianca Angeles, a member of the original Earl Woods Scholar cohort, reflected on the important relationships she developed over the years. 

“The program is huge on building relationships with our peers and also with our mentors,” Angeles said. “Our mentors did a very good job at keeping us focused — thinking about what’s going to happen after you graduate, thinking about where you are going to intern this summer. ‘Let’s look at your resume, how are your interviewing skills?’ It was fun but also very practical. We were learning all these skills for when we would grow up. What really sets this program apart is that it’s very sustainable. Even now, four years after graduating from college, I still talk to my mentors, I still talk to the staff. They are still there for me. It’s still a network that I see myself going back to.”

Kathy Bihr has been at the helm of the Tiger Woods Learning Center since the beginning, serving as VP of Education & Programs. She knows her purpose and believes in the future of education because of the TWLC.

“I have the best job in the world right here,” Bihr said. “What we are trying to do is help young people understand and make the connection between what they do in school every day and their future. It’s not textbook learning. You’re actually taking concepts and doing very complex work with it — learning how to design and launch rockets, how to read DNA strands, how to become a forensic scientist or how to dissect marine life. Now we have learning centers all over the country, and we feel a commitment to take what we know works and spread that good work around the country.”

Jin Thatcher, VP of Administration & Operations, served as project manager overseeing construction of the 35,000-square-foot facility in Anaheim. After an evening of reflection, she wrapped up the event by looking to the future, which goes beyond 20, 40 or even 50 years.

“The Tiger Woods Foundation truly is about forever,” Thatcher said.

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