Randy Barth looked around The Home Depot Center on Tuesday and couldn't help but smile.
The founder and CEO of THINK (Teaching, Helping, Inspiring, Nurturing Kids) Together summer enrichment program, held in conjunction with the Santa Ana Unified School District, was looking at almost 10,000 children, ranging in ages from kindergarten to the eighth grade, who were on hand to watch an LA Galaxy practice. For many of the youngsters Tuesday's event, which also featured an appearance by the Radio Disney Road Crew, marked the first time they had seen or been inside the facility, and the expressions on their faces said it all.
"Getting out here, seeing the pros, being in this stadium and this atmosphere is very special to them," said Barth, who estimated the trip was about 6-8 weeks in the making. "Anytime we have something all coming together like this it's very exciting. It's hard to see it all in one place.
"It's a real thrill."
THINK Together operates more than 200 programs throughout Southern California and provides daily academic support, homework assistance and enrichment activities including physical fitness to more than 50,000 educationally at-risk students. Cathie Olsky, deputy superintendent for the Santa Ana Unified School District, said the partnership with THINK Together came about as a result of federal grant money and private donations that helped make up for cutbacks in state funding.
"Otherwise they would have nothing," Olsky said. "This is fabulous for all these kids. We're feeling like we're their special guests, and they're performing for us."
It was a meaningful day as well for Olsky, who admitted she is a big Landon Donovan fan and even got the Galaxy star to sign his name on the shoulder of her white jacket.
"It's amazing for the kids to take a field trip, to come to a place probably most of them have never been to," she added. "They play soccer and they love soccer. It's a very special event."
The players said it was a memorable day as well. Donovan and Sean Franklin spoke briefly to the youths at the end of practice, and Franklin told them about watching a Galaxy practice at the Rose Bowl when he was a member of his old club team, Antelope Valley Heat, when he was 12 or 13.
"It was kind of cool then, and I'm sure it is for these kids today," Franklin said. "It's nice to see them out here."
"It's great," Alan Gordon said. "I wish I could have done something like this when I was a kid. It makes it all worth it ... it's what it's all about.
"The support we get from the kids make it a really special day. I hope they all enjoyed it."