The TGR Foundation and Find Your Grind partner to help students identify their passions, skills and possible careers that can lead them down the road to success.
By Sharon Stello
As a student, figuring out what you’re passionate about and what career you want to pursue can be a difficult task. Now, two organizations with local ties are now coming together to help students blaze their own path.
Irvine-based TGR Foundation, one of famed golfer Tiger Woods’ charities, is led by President and CEO Gordon McNeill, a former leader at Sage Hill School in Newport. The foundation works to bring educational opportunities to underserved youths through STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes and college-access programs as well as professional development courses for teachers. TGR also partners with local companies Experian and Genesis Bank to offer financial literacy classes, mentoring, internships and job shadow days. Since it was established in 1996, the foundation has reached 2 million students both in person and online, and trained 8,000 educators.
Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the organization is teaming up with the Find Your Grind Foundation in a multiyear partnership to go even further in helping students connect their passions with their talents and possible careers. Notably, FYG was co-founded by one of McNeill’s former students, Sage Hill alumnus Nick Gross, who went on to become a professional drummer, started a record label called Big Noise and developed Find Your Grind, a self-discovery and career exploration platform, among other projects at his company, Gross Labs.
McNeill, who follows many of his former students on social media, started noticing the work Gross was doing and reached out to learn more. The two implemented some of FYG’s programs at Sage Hill and are now bringing them to the TGR Foundation. “Nick and I started getting together, talking about what’s possible, how we could impact the lives of kids, and the synergy between the two organizations—we have almost an identical mission statement,” McNeill says. “… I think the way we can impact kids doubles as the result of us doing it together.”
This marks TGR Foundation’s first collaboration as part of its new Pathways Forward initiative to offer a variety of ways for students to achieve both professional and personal success in life.
“The Pathways Forward campaign will allow us to expand our program offerings and enhance our TGR Learning Labs,” Woods says. “We are thankful to Nick’s Find Your Grind Foundation and everyone who has supported the campaign for joining us in making a positive community impact.’”
Filling the Gap
When McNeill left Sage Hill after nearly 20 years, serving as dean of students, head of school and then president, he was looking for a new challenge.
“The school was in good hands. We established what we set out to do,” McNeill says. “[And] I like a challenge. At the time I was 50 and I’m like, ‘I’ve got another career left in me.’ … There were two or three things that my next career had to have. No. 1, it had to have a higher calling. It had to serve a population that really needed support in some way. Hopefully, it was connected in some way, shape or form to education, and it had to be something that was exciting and interesting that could really make change, so to speak.”
He stumbled across the TGR Foundation through a mutual connection and started learning more about it, especially its mission of empowering students to pursue their passion through education.
“I love Sage Hill School and … I want everybody to have an experience like that, right? But that’s not the reality of the world,” he says. “The public environment with the number of dollars and ratios of teachers and the state-mandated requirements, it’s hard to pull that off. So you need organizations like TGR Foundation to fill the gap. So I’m like, ‘This is a match made in heaven.’ And I get to be affiliated with Tiger Woods and his vision. And then the team was incredible … and these kids are incredible. I saw some of their stories and I’m like, ‘We’ve got to make this bigger and do more.’ ”
A big component of the TGR Foundation’s work is bringing fifth graders and their teachers in the Anaheim Union High School District to the organization’s Learning Lab where they experience a week of hands-on STEM classes ranging from robotics to video game design and urban planning; more than 50 areas of study are available. Students might be immersed in the world of forensic science, becoming crime solvers as they gather fingerprints and analyze DNA samples, or dive into marine science by dissecting a squid or examining sand samples. The goal is to not only teach STEM courses in an exciting way—which might spark an interest that leads to a career or simply ignite a passion for learning—but to also develop strong relationships with these students and build up their self-confidence. The foundation’s philosophy is that “the path to greatness begins when students believe in their own ability to succeed.”
The foundation also hosts over 30 workshops on college access and financial aid to demystify this process and help to open the door to higher education and career opportunities. These sessions take place not only in Anaheim, but at satellite locations in Washington, D.C., New York, South Florida, Philadelphia and Marine Corps Base Quantico. During the COVID-19 pandemic, as the foundation pivoted to make many of its programs virtual, the organization’s impact expanded to other states and even other countries.
For students who demonstrate high potential and a commitment to community service as well as financial need, the foundation’s Earl Woods Scholar Program offers further support through mentoring, internships and career development.
“We start identifying kids in 10th to 11th grades who might potentially want to go off to college and we start really supporting them on that journey all the way through college counseling into acceptance,” McNeill says. “And we keep supporting them once they’re in college because a lot of these kids, most of them, are first-generation [college students] and it’s just intimidating: It’s a whole new culture, a whole new space and they have questions and concerns.
“And we provide some scholarship assistance. … Even if they get a full financial aid package at a college, there are still gaps. They might need a computer, they might need a travel stipend, they might need clothing for an interview. … So we help them with those things through all four years and then, lo and behold, it goes longer than four years. They keep calling and checking in and circling back. It’s a really successful program.”
Grinding it Out
A new part of the foundation’s curriculum is a lifestyle assessment and other programs created by Find Your Grind. Students will visit the FYG website and answer a series of questions to identify their interests and lifestyle preferences—whether they want to travel or work in an office or be out in the field connecting with people, for example.
At the end of the survey, students might learn that their personality lines up with that of a creator, a humanitarian, an educator, organizer or one of several other traits. They can then learn about a wide range of careers that mesh with those personalities and skill sets, watching videos about people in those fields and exploring what it takes to get those kinds of jobs, the salary range and more.
FYG started when Gross began opening his Noise Nest studio in Los Angeles to students who wanted to get involved in music, but didn’t have the tools or resources to find out what it’s like to work in the music industry. Quarterly events with other nonprofit partners eventually grew into something bigger. “I started thinking what if we could do what we’ve done here through music across hundreds of emerging careers and industries and what the future of work looks like and really help show that to thousands of kids on a more macro level,” Gross says.
Next, he helped organize a speaking tour that traveled to different high schools. “That was all about helping kids find their grind, like helping them tap into their purpose and what kind of future opportunities make sense for them and showing them the landscape of what the world’s like today. And that’s kind of how the whole idea really started. And we’ve obviously evolved a lot from then.”
The goal is to help prepare students for life after school. “Quite honestly, I think there’s still way too much of a linear approach to how education is preparing … young people for the real world … meaning things that are a lot more important today in terms of what employers look for and in terms of what the economy calls for, in terms of really understanding your skill sets, really being self-aware about what you bring to the table and understanding kind of what opportunities fit those skill sets so you’re not spending years just kind of guessing on career trajectories,” Gross says.
FYG has a nine- and 18-week curriculum centered on career exploration and social and emotional learning, which is sold to schools and districts, but also provided for free to some campuses in low-income areas. The organization’s pilot curriculum is in 1,200 schools across the nation and used by more than 5,000 educators. A new version rolls out this fall. “Some of the topics are around how to build a personal brand, how to build a work-life balance and that type of stuff,” Gross explains. “We [also] have a whole module around self-discovery and self-awareness.”
Part of the new approach is a chatbot program that is formatted like a texting conversation, where students answer questions and those answers lead to more questions, all to help them on the road to self-discovery.
“We want to make sure we’re always meeting kids where they’re at, what they’re familiar with: TikTok, Snapchat, so a lot of our content in Find Your Grind, in terms of the activities, are really built around that. Like this chat/text bot feature responded really well to kids and all of our videos on mentors and careers are 15-, 30-second learning moments … that look and feel like you’re watching a TikTok video—really making sure our content feels relevant to the students at all times,” Gross says.
In addition to this fresh content, the Learning Lab itself will be getting a makeover to modernize the space. The TGR Foundation plans to add a multimedia lab and a dedicated area for career exploration, plus new indoor and outdoor learning and activity spaces.
“I had Gordon over to my studio, the Noise Nest in LA, a couple months back,” Gross says, “and I think he got pretty inspired about the look and the feel and the vibe of the space of what we had created there and felt like there could be room for improvement … [at the] Learning Lab centers … to create cool environments for kids to want to hang out in.
“I think that’s half the battle, whether it’s a product or a space or a teacher, just creating spaces that kids want to never leave and feel a part of. And I think that’s such a big piece of what this partnership is going to do now, really reigniting the energy behind the spaces themselves so kids feel inspired to figure out what they want to do in their lives.”
Swinging for Success
To raise money for the TGR Foundation, the organization’s charity events division, TGR Live, presents special golfing experiences each year with exclusive opportunities.
Two of the golf tournaments are organized by the PGA Tour and open to the general public with tickets, however, TGR Live sells sponsorships for companies and other groups that include hospitality for entertaining clients and guests. These events include:
• Hero World Challenge, Nov. 29 to Dec. 5, in Albany, Bahamas
• Genesis Invitational, Feb. 14-20, 2022, at The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades
TGR Live’s other three signature events are only open to sponsoring companies and individuals. These include:
• Nexus Cup, Sept. 13-14, at Liberty National Golf Club and Nexus Club in New York City
• Tiger Woods Invitational Presented by USLI, Oct. 11-13, on the Monterey Peninsula.
• Tiger Jam, dates TBA, at the MGM Grand and Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas
Each of these events include dining, entertainment, premium gifts and a private golf component. At the Tiger Woods Invitational, there’s a private golf exhibition with Woods and PGA Tour professionals.
Details about the evening entertainment are still being finalized for these signature events, but they always involve special guests such as PGA Tour golfers, musicians and A-list entertainers. Notably, at Nexus Cup in 2019, Jimmy Fallon hosted “The Tonight Show Unplugged” for guests at Nexus Club New York, interviewing Woods about his Masters win.
All proceeds from each event benefit the TGR Foundation’s education programs. (tgrlive.com)