Campaign benefits local community

USC jumpstarted a new year of fundraising for its Good Neighbors Campaign, a program started by former USC President Steven Sample that aims to support the communities surrounding the university’s two campuses, on Tuesday.

The campaign encourages faculty and staff to contribute portions of their paychecks to a fund called the USC Neighborhood Outreach program.

Each year, the USC Good Neighbors Campaign and the Neighborhood Outreach fund have a goal of raising more than $1 million to support programs that enhance educational opportunities, promote neighborhood safety and job opportunities and encourage healthy lifestyles in the surrounding areas.

Last year, faculty, staff, students and outside donors gave an average of $253 each to raise a record-breaking $1.5 million, exceeding the pre-year goal by $100,000. This success was due in part to the creation of an online donation platform, now a major trend in nationwide philanthropy that makes donating easier and greener.

This year, the campaign aims to raise $1.6 million, which would trump last year’s success by $100,000.

Though the Good Neighbors Campaign accepts donations any time during the year, the official campus-wide campaign runs during the month of October, according to Cesar Armendariz, communications director of the campaign.

Armendariz, who also serves as director of community outreach at the Health Sciences Campus, explained that the campaign not only raises money but also pairs USC faculty, staff and student organizations with community groups to create programs that make a change in the surrounding area.

“It’s one thing to give money, but it really helps for faculty to see the impact firsthand,” Armendariz said.

Armendariz works for the campaign and each year contributes 1 percent of his salary to the fund. He also personally received grants each year to fund a community health fair in the fall and a science education fair for fifth graders in the spring.

“At the science fair, our medical and pharmacy students become mentors for the children,” Armendariz said. “I can assure you that the money is going to good use because I’ve seen both sides of it.”

One of the chief beneficiaries of UNO is The 32nd Street USC Magnet School, which aims to set all its students on a path to USC. Students from kindergarten to eighth grade at the school focus on performing and visual arts, while the high school is aimed toward improving math, science and technology skills. Its arts curriculum has produced successful performers such as actor Shia LaBeouf.

“We are trying to create a project-based, hands-on learning environment,” said Victor Sanchez, who facilitates USC programs at The 32nd Street School. “But the school’s enriching programs depend on an ongoing relationship with USC and its student volunteers.”

One of the school’s most valued enrichment programs comes from the USC Thornton School of Music’s Outreach Program, which not only puts on special concerts and events, but also organizes undergraduate and graduate students to teach weekly music lessons to local elementary school students. The Thornton Outreach Program depends heavily on GNC funds to pay for materials, transportation and special events.

“For the last 10 years, education funding has been cut back and back and back, especially for arts instruction,” said Susan Helfter, director of community outreach at Thornton. “Without these funds, our music programs simply would not run.”

According to Sanchez, GNC and UNO has had a tremendous impact on The 32nd Street School by connecting elementary students with sorority houses to paint pumpkins together for Halloween, starting a debate team and organizing art shows at the school.

“What makes us unique as a school is that while other schools might use student volunteers as an opportunity to get rid of a student who has behavioral problems, we strategically place students in those special programs who are potentially gifted and who can really benefit from them,” Sanchez said.

GNC has also helped fund Troy Camp, a student-run volunteer organization that mentors elementary school students through sporting events and field trips.

“[UNO] is one of our biggest sources of money. Troy Camp is completely free for campers, so we really depend on our fundraising efforts,” said Michael Lin-Brande, a senior majoring in business administration who served as the grant-writer for Troy Camp last year.

Sanchez explained that Troy Camp has introduced his school’s students to enriching experiences they normally couldn’t afford, which in the long run helps them academically.

“When I asked one of our students what he spent his summer doing, he said he visited his brother in prison,” Sanchez said.

Since its inception in 1994, GNC has raised more than $12.5 million  to fund more than 400 groups like Troy Camp that collaborate with USC to put local children on the path to a college education and to alleviate safety and health problems in the community.

The effort has expanded from contributions by faculty and staff to include donations from students, as well.

Though some students cannot afford to make a financial donation, Armendariz encouraged students to promote the campaign by encouraging their professors to donate or by getting involved in the beneficiary organizations themselves.