By Paul Sterman
Published Jul 1, 2008 8:00 AM
When Randy Barth '81 was a basketball-crazy teenager growing up in Downey, his ambition was to play hoops for UCLA, which was just a few years removed from the John Wooden Era. The lanky youth was a good athlete, but good enough to play for the Bruins? Merely a fantasy.
However, one part of the plan came true. Barth did attend UCLA, graduating with a B.A. in economics, and then he went on to become a highly successful stockbroker in Newport Beach, Calif. And soon he found himself nurturing another dream — and this one became a reality.
In the wake of a gang shooting in Costa Mesa in the mid-'90s, Barth formed an after-school learning center in the troubled neighborhood; that led to significant improvements in the area. Soon, he was leading the charge to implement the same program in a crime-ridden neighborhood of Santa Ana.
"That's really when my passion exploded," he says. "It showed me these kids could make it, so then it became like a moral imperative for me: 'OK, you know you can do this — what are you going to do about it?' "
In 1997, Barth founded a nonprofit called THINK Together that now provides 30,000 students in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties with free academic coaching and other activities for several hours after school every day. Geared mainly to elementary- and middle-school kids, the program provides an hour of academic instruction, then an hour of tutoring on class work and homework. The afternoon is capped off with an hour of exercise and other activities.
At a time when most nonprofits are struggling mightily just to survive, Barth's enterprise has become one of the largest providers of after-school programs in the United States. Opening with just a few learning centers in Orange County, the group today runs more than 200 after-school sites in four counties. THINK Together now has more than 1,000 employees and a $35-million budget.
Just as impressive, three of the 10 schools in Orange County with the biggest increase in Academic Performance Index scores last year were schools where THINK Together operates, including a Santa Ana elementary school that boasted the county's largest improvement.
"These kids have the same bell curve as high academic performers — they just need the right support to achieve their full potential," says the 50-year-old Barth who, last year, was named one of the "Hot 25" people of Orange County by OC Metro magazine.
Still dreaming big, he's planning to expand service to high school students and is working on a child-care program as well. "I fell in love with this job," Barth says. "I can use my business skills and combine it with my passion. It's enormously satisfying."