When it comes to philanthropy and aiding others, one of the most common themes is helping children create a better life for themselves. Whether that be through a generous donation to aid their education, finding resources for them that can open more doors down the line, or even just providing an ear to their troubles, there’s a reason that organizations often try to help children as much as possible: they are the future, and without a future, there is nothing to work towards.
That’s exactly the mentality the TGR Foundation, the philanthropic group headed by world-famous golfer Tiger Woods, carries with it in all of its ventures. While it’s been over 26 years since the foundation got its start, it’s still very much pushing for new opportunities for all its kids. Just this year, they opened a newly renovated Learning Lab in Anaheim, that features creation studios, 3D printers and laser cutters, a cafe and student lounge, and more. These resources, TGR leadership says, are just an extension of what the foundation wants to offer their kids: the opportunity to pursue exactly what they want.
“Tiger’s vision has always been about opportunity and access,” Gordon McNeill, CEO of the TGR Foundation, says. “One of the things we wanted to do is make that space in Anaheim 35,000 square feet of learning space [and] as dynamic as possible… so number one, is it dynamic? Number two, is it the best kind of learning environment? Then number three, does it have all the technology and everything they need to thrive? So we put that in place, then it's a question of, ‘do the programs line up?’”
Emphasizing that the design of the building was to encourage an environment that kids would want to work in, McNeill explained that he hoped it would not be seen as just a learning space, but as a professional space as well; “it makes you want to be there,” he said. In addition to the wide open spaces, spacious auditorium, and other amenities comparable to a college campus, the Learning Lab will also offer extensive technological resources; both hardware and things behind the scenes.
“Fast internet access: they might have it at home, some of them don't,” McNeil says. “The other week ago, we had Gen.G in our building doing these workshops. Gen.G is, if you’re not familiar… a platform where gaming gets pushed out onto Twitch. Kids are totally into it, right? So our kids, we're hosting and running a gaming competition to push out, and they can't do that at home, their WiFi won't keep up with it. Part of it was learning how that works. They're learning from people from Gen.G, who become mentors, and now they know somebody when they're interested in that career later, ‘hey, you met me a few years ago! Can you help me with this next thing I want to do?’”
This theme of mentorship – whether it be from streamers at Gen.G or other professionals in industries the kids might be interested in – is critical to TGR’s success, and a key mantra behind their decision-making. Mentors for the TGR foundation come from a wide range of backgrounds, including marketing, computer science and others, but all have one thing in common: they sign up to be mentors to offer support to someone who may not know their next steps after school, often a decision that ends up being for life.
“I think what's really special about it is that in addition to the staff that we have at the foundation, who are so passionate and committed to the students, then you have kind of somebody who may be from a business background, that can really help guide their career choices, and help them network,” Karina Hamilton, a board member and mentor, says. “Sometimes it's somebody just cheering for you from the sidelines. Sometimes you get those low moments and you think, ‘What am I doing?’ Or ‘Should I change my major?’ Having somebody other than your parents that you can kind of go to and be able to receive some guidance and support to help the student, see what that path could be. I think a lot of what we do is trying to inspire students to reach for the stars… What are the things that they can do that they can't even dream that they can do, really encouraging them in those ways.”
Another key reason behind the mentors and the new Learning Lab, McNeill explains, is for the desire to keep kids engaged as they get older, helping them to find their passions as they graduate and enter either college or the workforce. With resources like those at the Learning Lab, McNeill says, they’ll be able to compete with other interests teenagers may have and give them a reason to want to be there in person.
“Our big thing is ‘stickiness,’” McNeill said. “When we go deeper with them, we want to measure how many certifications we are getting these kids through. How many shadow days do they go to? How many internships do they have? How many resume-writing workshops do they go to? When they get to [grades] 10, 11 and 12, did they go to our college-bound academy? Have they applied to colleges? Did they get financial aid? Are we securing companies that are willing to hire our students?”
“We have to measure it, like are we successful, because it's easy to talk about,” he continues. “You do these great programs, but I want tangible outcomes. Did they go to college and pursue what they wanted to pursue? Did they land a job? The only way I can measure progress is [if] they’re getting certifications. Are they building their portfolio? Did they go on an internship? Did they do a shadow day? That's my data.”
In doing so, the Learning Lab offers certain certifications and connections a student may need for their eventual professional career; opportunities, McNeill explains, that are not always readily available for all kids. Examples include access to software like the Adobe suite, which can cost hundreds of dollars for an annual subscription, certifications and classes offered for computer programs like the Google suite, or even just more fun options, like robotics or, as previously mentioned, game development. It all comes back to what the students are interested in, and filling in the gaps they may experience in their everyday life.
“We try to categorize kids in big topics, not that you're going to be an app developer, but you're a designer; not that you're going to be a journalist, but you're a storyteller; not that you love working on graphic arts and video games, but you're a designer,” McNeill says. “Those big categories are discovering who you are, and you could play with some things a little bit more deeply. Instead of it being one day, how about six to eight weeks of diving in deep on this?”
It all comes down to the kids receiving the attention they deserve; a goal, Hamilton explains, that’s aided by the Learning Lab, as the space will serve not just as a resource for the kids, but as a place they can enjoy outside of the professional opportunities. One example includes the extracurricular activities offered at the space, including competitions on weekends in robotics or a simple Movie Night held in the large auditorium space:
“I think what's so special about it is that everybody who works there is so committed to the success of the students,” Hamilton says. “I do think the building's amazing, and it will attract a lot of terrific students and enable them to do really interesting projects; we have 3-D printers and we have makerspaces and all that kind of stuff, so the students can really explore all of those things… But if you don't have the right staff, if you don't have the right people to help guide the students, then they're not going to come back.”
“We can reach out to the community and feel like a real resource to them, and that they can be comfortable to drop by whenever they want,” she added, referring to the new space. “The students really think of it as their space, it's their place to hang out, so they really take care of it, and they treat it nicely.”
While the Learning Lab’s opening can be seen as a major accomplishment, it’s far from the finale for the foundation, as they will be pushing to develop new spaces – including a new sports complex that’ll offer tennis and basketball courts to kids that may not have access otherwise – and continue to host live events. Just this past weekend, the foundation hosted its annual “Hero World Challenge,” which hosts some of the top golfers in the world and pushes a strong philanthropic effort. TGR Officials said that it was a return to form for the foundation, especially after facing a bit of difficulty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, and you went all online, we shrunk a little,” McNeill says. “We no longer had the fundraising mechanism in the events we were running to help generate revenue, it all slowed down. The good news is we've had a huge boom in funding and raising the necessary capital to do what we do.
“It's really about building a community of people who want to come together, and who want to be in a relationship with the partners we have,” McNeill continues. “How do you bring all these partnerships, tie them into the programs, and make sure the students have a great experience? That's what we're working on internally. We've got a good, strong five-year plan all laid out.”
With plenty behind them and even more to look forward to, the TGR Foundation is truly like its creator, Tiger Woods: a champion.
Photography by: TGR Foundation