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Donald Bren Pledges $8.5 Million to Expand After-School Programs in Southern California

  • Brings Bren’s total giving to after-school programs to $10 million
  • Continues long-standing, $100 million commitment by Bren to support K-12 education causes
  • Expands THINK Together to facilitate after school programs in every K-5 school in Santa Ana Unified School District
  • Expands program to serve 30,000 underprivileged students across Southern California
  • Responds to call by state Superintendent of Public Instruction to enhance academic opportunities and close achievement gap
  • Creates leadership grant to expand in Eastern Los Angeles County

NEWPORT BEACH, CA — (February 19, 2008) In one of the largest private donations to after-school programs in California history, Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren announced Monday an $8.5 million gift for the expansion of the THINK Together after-school academic program in Southern California. The funds will benefit children in school districts in Santa Ana and Eastern Los Angeles County.

"After seeing the difficult challenges facing students in these school districts — including declining enrollment and budget cuts — I felt compelled to meet the need identified by Governor Schwarzenegger for quality after-school programs, and answer Superintendent O’Connell’s recent call to create more business partnerships with local schools to expand programs that have proven to be successful,” said Bren, whose gift is the continuation of his long-term commitment to quality education in California, a commitment that includes more than $100 million of support to K-12 education causes. THINK Together is one of the largest providers of after-school programs in the United States, recognized for providing high-quality, well-organized, academically-oriented after-school curriculum for low-income students.

“THINK Together is a proven program that delivers results for these young children at a critical time in their educational lives through the collaboration of teachers, school officials and volunteer mentors,” continued Bren. “The K-5 years are the formative years, during which a student grows the roots of their knowledge base and develops the fundamental academic skills that will chart the course of the rest of their lives.

“THINK Together plays a very important role in helping these children achieve at grade-level proficiency. My goal is for this funding to help close the achievement gap and truly make a difference by providing resources that otherwise would not be available.”

Governor Schwarzenegger has championed the benefits of after-school programs, noting their importance in providing children with academic support and a safe place to learn. THINK Together receives funds from Proposition 49, the After School Education and Safety Initiative passed by voters in 2002 to provide funds for after-school programs in schools with a high number of students from low-income families.

“I’ve always been a big believer in after-school programs,” the Governor said. “The danger zone for kids is from 1 o’clock to 6 o’clock, because that’s when they are often unsupervised. That’s when they can get into all kinds of trouble with gangs and drugs, if no one is paying attention to them.

“This funding by Donald Bren will make a substantial positive difference for thousands of students. Facts show that high-quality, well-organized after-school programs help kids do better work in the classroom,” added Schwarzenegger. “The students in Santa Ana and Eastern Los Angeles County now have a brighter future, because of the guidance they will receive with THINK Together and the opportunity to have something positive and productive to do after school.”

THINK Together is a non-profit after-school provider serving about 20,000 students every day at more than 180 sites in school districts throughout Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. With this gift, THINK Together envisions serving about 30,000 children. THINK stands for Teaching, Helping, Inspiring, Nurturing, Kids. THINK Together partners with schools, parents and the community to provide a well-organized place for students to learn and grow.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell praised today’s announcement, noting that “our state finds itself in the midst of another serious financial crisis, where every dollar counts and makes a difference. During these tough times, as we’ve seen in the past, there is no shortage of local communities and individual citizens willing to step up to the plate and provide critical support to ensure our children have the opportunity for a bright future.

“I want to commend Donald Bren for his strong commitment to our students. His very generous donation to THINK Together will go a long way toward increasing the number of after-school educational opportunities available to students in Eastern Los Angeles County and Santa Ana. These funds will also provide students with much-needed resources and programs to help close the achievement gap, the single most significant issue facing public education in California.”

Students come to the THINK Together sites every school day, receive a healthy snack and then participate in a rotation of supervised activities. They receive an additional hour of instruction — often delivered by teachers from that same school — and then receive help with their homework for about an hour, through a combination of paid staff and volunteer tutors. Students then participate in an hour of exercise through a combination of structured physical fitness activities. THINK Together programs have won numerous awards and have shown outstanding results.

The gift creates a new leadership grant which will be used to expand THINK Together in Eastern Los Angeles County, where the program currently serves 10,000 students. In 2006, when the state published a list of 1,400 schools that would be “High Priority” to receive Proposition 49 funds, hundreds of those schools identified were in the eastern portion of Los Angeles County. THINK Together currently serves the following school districts in Eastern Los Angeles County: Azusa, Baldwin Park, Bassett, Duarte, Little Lake, Los Nietos, Norwalk-La Mirada, Pomona and South Whittier.

“This critical funding provides the opportunity to expand and grow THINK Together in Eastern Los Angeles County,” said Joanne Kozberg, former California Secretary of State and Consumer Services, and current UC Regent. “Providing these low-income students with the resources necessary to round out their education – resources that otherwise would not be available to this underserved group – is a wonderful collaborative effort between government (Federal, State and Local), teachers and the private sector (Donald Bren and The Irvine Company) that will prove fruitful in the lives of many underprivileged children.”

This gift continues a long-standing, decade-old commitment by Bren and The Irvine Company to THINK Together. Since 1998, Bren and The Irvine Company have provided financial support and employees have volunteered their time on the board and as mentors. Longtime company Vice President Sat Tamaribuchi has served on THINK Together’s board since its inception in 1997. Today’s gift increases Bren’s total financial giving to after-school programs and THINK Together to $10 million, and extends his educational giving off of The Irvine Ranch to Santa Ana and East Los Angeles County.

“This new gift from Donald Bren, one of the largest single gifts to an after-school program in California, allows us to extend the learning time and expand the educational opportunities for thousands of underprivileged youth in Southern California,” said THINK Together Chief Executive Officer Randy Barth. “This tremendous gift will allow thousands of low-income students to receive critical academic intervention programs, reading and homework assistance and physical education programs after school, which will help them bridge the achievement gap found in these school districts and have these students performing at grade-level proficiency.”

These funds will allow THINK Together to facilitate after school programs in every K-5 school in the Santa Ana Unified School District. Three of the top 10 schools in Orange County that experienced the highest increases in Academic Performance Index (API) scores last year were THINK Together schools, including Monte Vista Elementary School in Santa Ana, which experienced the largest increase in API scores in Orange County. “This wonderful and generous gift provides critical funding in a time of impending cuts to the after school program that will have a significant and lasting impact on our youth,” said José Alfredo Hernández, Santa Ana Unified School District Board president. “THINK Together will continue its work and expand opportunities for our students in the afternoon hours to enhance their academic skills and take the necessary strides to bridge the achievement gap.”

“I applaud Donald Bren for his vision and foresight in providing this critical funding, which will help schools that are serving a higher percentage of low income, minority and English learners to close the achievement gap, reach grade-level proficiency and realize academic success,” said Dr. David Barton, president of the Santa Ana Educators’ Association. “Today’s announcement is welcome news as we continue to try and solve one of our highest priorities in the state, providing assistance to the children of greatest need.”

“The children in Santa Ana have great potential and this substantial gift from Donald Bren will provide them with the resources they need to reach that and compete with other students in Orange County,” explained Jane Russo, Santa Ana Unified School District superintendent. “Our students face significant challenges, but with the environment and instruction provided by these funds, they will reap lasting educational benefits.”

“The students in these school districts need additional resources to truly address the achievement gap that exists today,” said Bren. “My goal is for this funding to make a real difference in the lives of these students and the future workforce here in Southern California. "There is no wiser investment we can make as individuals and as a company than in our children," Bren concluded. "They will be our enduring legacy. They are the leaders of the future, and the quality of education they receive today will directly impact the success and prosperity of our communities tomorrow."