Think Together Staff Member Celebrates 25 Years of Impacting Students

Working with students wasn’t Jose Candelas’ first career step. In fact, before Jose began working at Think Together 25 years ago, he enjoyed math and thought he might study to become an accountant. As soon as he went to his first accounting class, he quickly realized that it was not the career path for him.

Soon after, a friend offered him a job to work in the parks and recreation department of a church in Downtown Santa Ana. Jose started working with students at the Noah Teen Center in the church, which happened to be one of Think Together’s first community student programs. This is where his passion for helping students achieve their goals and reach for college and career aspirations flourished.

Jose then started working towards acquiring his teaching credentials and was an assistant teacher in the Santa Ana Unified School District. His drive to academically support students was noticed by one of Think Together’s first executive directors, and so his journey to change the odds for kids began with Think Together.

Officially, Jose joined Think Together in 1999, only two years after the organization became a nonprofit. His first position was as the site program manager for Think Together’s first school site, Davis Elementary School in Santa Ana.

Since then, Jose has worn many hats within the organization. He’s served as a site program manager, quality assurance coach, director of community sites, learning and development facilitator, and many more. Jose has worked with Think Together students of all ages, from younger than one year of age to high school seniors.

“I saw myself helping kids because I knew how much I struggled with school and I told myself, ‘I’m going to help these kids so that they don’t struggle the way I struggled.’ I had immigrant parents and a lot of the kids that I was working with also had immigrant parents that couldn’t get the help that they needed,” Jose said.

Having so much experience within the organization, Jose has been a witness to all the impactful accomplishments Think Together has made in the past two decades. He was there supporting Think Together when we expanded in 2007 from 25 to 180 schools due to the passing of California Prop 49, enabling more funding through the Afterschool Education and Safety Program.

When we partnered with schools in the LA Metro region, Jose was alongside the organization helping train staff and continue the Think Together mission and culture. Today, we serve over 39,701 students in Los Angeles County.

In addition to its triumphs, Jose has also experienced growing pains through Think Together’s several iterations of expansion.

“It wasn’t always a beautiful picture. Just like any relationship, there’s ups and there’s downs, but in the end, I always knew that Think Together had my best interest at heart and the kids’ best interest at heart. If it’s not about the kids and the companies that we’re serving, then then we’re not doing what we set out to do,” Jose said.

Think Together Risk Management Associate Erica Cardoso, who’s been with the organization for 17 years, has been witness to Jose’s driving work ethic.

“Jose’s main focus has always been on our families and students. Employees who have been here at Think Together for such a dedicated timeframe and who have worked and collaborated with Jose, understand the importance that impact makes to our mission statement,” Erica said. “Long standing employees bring a historical richness to new and improved areas of Think Together as we look to the future in continuing to change the odds for kids.”

Think Together is honored to celebrate over two decades of Jose impacting students and being the organization’s longest staff member. Technically, Jose’s tenure is longer than that of our founder and CEO, Randy Barth, who started with the organization as a volunteer board chair in 1994.

“I’m extremely proud to have an employee like Jose be part of Think Together, who continuously shows a commitment to guide students towards a brighter future,” Randy said. “It’s been extraordinary to see Jose grow with us, and we hope to celebrate 25 more years with him.”

Jose is grateful to be part of an organization like Think Together, that continues to change the odds for kids and is always looking for ways to further enrich students learning experience.

“My place is here at Think Together. As long as we keep growing and helping people, it’ll be really hard to get rid of me,” Jose said. “I’ve put some deep roots here and I’m just happy to see people that are still growing and the students that we’re serving. Think Together to me is my second family, I’ve really come to love everybody here.”