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Tiger Woods lends star power to opening of learning centers

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2010; 11:24 PM

When Tiger Woods entered the cafeteria at the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School's Capitol Hill campus on Friday, there was the same kind of buzz that greets him at golf tournaments. The assembled group of ninth-graders - kids who might well benefit from the Tiger Woods Learning Center he christened at the school - oohed and aahed, gawked and gazed, some yelling "Tiger Woods!"

Through all his personal and professional travails of the last year, Woods remains one of the world's most recognizable figures - athletic or otherwise. On Friday, the Tiger Woods Foundation and the Chavez Schools celebrated the opening of two learning centers in the District.

"We try to use golf as a tool, a vehicle, with kids to get them inspired about life in general," Woods said after a 30-minute question-and-answer session with students. "But not everyone's going to play golf, so not everyone's going to understand the life experience you do learn from golf. So from that standpoint, it's: What's the best way you can make an impact? And that is through education, and us getting these kids more prepared for life, because not everyone's going to be participating in golf."

Woods, 34, began his foundation the same year he won the first of his 14 major golf championships - 1997, when he was just 21.

"What did you have to do to make a foundation?" one student asked.

Woods said that on Sept. 11, 2001, he was in St. Louis and had to drive back to his home outside Orlando after the terrorist attacks. Along the way, he said he asked himself "what would be left behind" had he been in one of those planes.

"Basically, it would be nothing," he said.

So he shifted the foundation's focus from golf to education. In 2006, the first Tiger Woods Learning Center opened in Anaheim, Calif. Washington is the second site.

In 2007, when Woods brought a PGA Tour event to Bethesda's Congressional Country Club, the Tiger Woods Foundation announced plans to establish a learning center in the District. The economic downturn made building, renting or renovating a single site unfeasible. In June, the foundation announced that it would instead open two "campuses" - one at Chavez's Capitol Hill facility in Ward 6, the other at the organization's Parkside facility in Ward 7.

"I think all of us know how hard it is for kids in the District," said Irasema Salcido, the founder of the Chavez schools. "Having a Tiger Woods Learning Center helps schools like Chavez to reinforce what we try to do day-in and day-out, and more importantly make these opportunities available. Many times we can't do that."

Officials expect each center to serve about 500 students in after-school and weekend programs. The Capitol Hill facility will focus on communications and video production and open within the next several weeks. The Parkside center is already open, with programs in science and engineering.

During his address, Woods was accompanied by two Earl Woods Scholars who received scholarships from his foundation. Ayanna Brooks, a 2009 Chavez graduate, and Fatou Sogoyou-Bekeyi, a 2008 graduate of H.D. Woodson Senior High School.

"They don't give you the money and say, 'Okay, go to school,'" said Sogoyou-Bekeyi, now a junior at the University of Idaho. "They keep in touch with you. They provide you mentors. It's like family."

Woods's appearance here was brief. He flew in Friday morning and left in the afternoon. Neither his struggles on the golf course (he doesn't have a victory in 2010) nor those in his personal life (he was embroiled in a sex scandal and got divorced) came up.

"Kids are so much more fun to talk to than adults," he said.

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