Good Things Happen When People Think Together

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Omar Masry, an Irvine city planner, Rick Ventura, chief fund development officer for THINK, Nadia Flores, executive director of THINK Orange County, and Sam Anderson share a laugh. Photo by Kathleen Sanchez

For Beacon Bay residents and THINK Together supporters Susan and Sam Anderson, helping the community begins early, one child at a time, and includes involvement by others to help students not only graduate from high school but move on to higher education.  “It takes a village” is not just a cliché; it is how the work of staff, volunteers and donors at THINK Together are able to successfully help at-risk youth reach their full potential.

Susan and Sam have been involved with THINK Together for nearly 20 years, and one of Sam’s greatest successes, thanks to his dedication, includes having been a tutor and mentor for 18 years to Nadia Flores, who was recently promoted from THINK Together’ director of early literacy to executive director of the Orange County region.

The mission of THINK Together is to “provide high-quality, academically oriented out-of-school programs for students regardless of race, creed or socioeconomic status.” They do this through programs including their Early Literacy and Math Program (ELMP), Supplemental Educational Services (SES), Teens High School Program and Summer Programs.

The statistics surrounding why organizations like THINK Together are necessary in today’s world make the case for continued support.  In the last 25 years, the student population in California alone has shifted dramatically, with 52 percent of K-12 students being Latino and 5 percent African-American.  While there are plenty of exceptions, most of that 57 percent of today’s student population are on the wrong side of the achievement gap.  Studies show that the average 18-year old Latino or African-American student performs at the level of the average 13-year-old white or Asian student.

This last Tuesday evening, the leadership, staff and volunteers of THINK Together were welcomed by Board Member and supporter Don Crevier at his Crevier Classic Cars, to celebrate the organizations achievements, and learn first-hand from students about where they came from and how THINK Together programs helped keep them on track to a higher education, breaking a cycle of poverty and lack of education from whence they came.

Three THINK Together alumni spoke during the event Tuesday – all now graduates of UC Riverside. Their stories all began in Mexico, with parents who, though hard working, did not receive an education much higher than middle school, and arrived in the US with little support or grasp of the English language. As a result, as the children began moving to higher grades, their parents were unable to help them with their homework or provide them with the support necessary to achieve.

THINK Together alumni Rafael Sanchez, who recently received his degree in engineering, began visiting TT’s Shalimar Teen Center in Costa Mesa when he was in 9th grade and the center quickly became his second home.  There, Rafael was able to connect to a broader village, and extended family and he began to actively participate in THINK Together extracurricular activities. He focused his efforts working with the Orange County Congregational Community Organization which made all the difference in how he perceived his future.

Through Think Together programs, these kids are able to successfully transition from where they came from in to a new community early on, while avoiding the lure of drugs, gangs, and crime over time.  This is done through English language development and tutoring of basic reading, writing and arithmetic so that they can catch up to their peers in school. Some of the kids begin their journey with Think Together, like Nadia did, as young as 2nd grade and continue in the program all the way through college simply because of the support they receive that they are not able to garner in the home environments.

By keeping the children engaged and providing a fun, safe environment where the kids and staff share a deep sense of camaraderie, Think Together has now expanded nationwide, with 323 sites serving more than 100,000 at-risk youth. Now that’s a large village.

Lynn Selich can be reached at [email protected].

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