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After-school help program gets gift

February 20, 2008|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

Developer and philanthropist Donald Bren on Tuesday reached beyond the Orange County communities he helped build and define, announcing an $8.5-million donation to benefit after-school programs in Santa Ana and east Los Angeles County.

The gift will bolster Santa Ana-based THINK Together, an after-school program that extends the school day for children who need extra coaching with classwork or homework help, often because their parents are working or lack English skills. The program provides an additional hour of schooling, homework assistance and physical education.

Bren, whose Irvine Co. and Donald Bren Foundation have contributed more than $200 million to public schools and universities, was motivated to choose THINK Together after a January speech by state Education Supt. Jack O'Connell challenged listeners to "imagine if every school had access to a successful business partner to provide mentors, materials and opportunities for students."

The donation is Bren's largest outside the boundaries of the old Irvine Ranch, which included Irvine, Newport Beach, Tustin, Orange, Laguna Beach and Anaheim, said John Christensen, Irvine Co. spokesman.

Beyond having shaped the identity of cities like Irvine and high-end enclaves such as Newport Coast, the Irvine Co. owns about 400 office buildings, 40 retail centers, 90 apartment communities, two hotels, five marinas and three golf clubs.

"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," Bren said in a written statement.

THINK Together, which has a $25-million annual budget, already operates in 13 Santa Ana schools. The funding will allow the program to expand to each of the 36 grade schools in Santa Ana Unified School District, said schools Supt. Jane Russo. Programs in Los Angeles County are just beginning.

The infusion of funds could play a role in improving test scores in a district where they have traditionally lagged, Russo said.


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