Good Neighbors Campaign raises the bar

Is there hope for philanthropic organizations during a time when people seem less able to make charitable donations?

The USC Good Neighbors Campaign, which supports university-funded neighborhood projects, answered that question with a resounding yes; it raised $1.2 million from USC faculty and staff contributions last year, a record amount since the campaign started 15 years ago.

Jovanna Tosello | Daily Trojan

“Under those [economic] circumstances, we could have fallen short of our goal,” President C.L. Max Nikias said at the President’s Distinguished Leadership Circle dinner on Sept. 21, according to USC News. “Instead, we surpassed everyone’s expectations.”

The Good Neighbors Campaign is on the move to call more and more students to participate in meaningful community service during their college career, an undertaking which should prove beneficial to both students and community.

This year, the campaign wants to set the bar even higher at $1.3 million. The utilization of an effective, innovative and free social media tool should help them meet that goal.

That tool is called YouTube.

A video posted two weeks ago by Thomas Sayles — USC vice president of government and civic engagement and co-chair of the 2010 Good Neighbors Campaign — shows testimony from numerous USC staff and faculty involved in this community partnership.

The campaign’s fundamental goal speaks to the heart of one of the university’s missions in the Nikias administration: to improve the quality of life in our surrounding community.

Since its founding in 1995, the campaign has raised more than $11 million from faculty and staff donors.

As valuable as these donations are to the success of the program, the campaign video goes further to portray a perspective from those involved in the organization on both a personal and a professional level.

By doing so, campaign participants can see that their time and resources impact social change in our surrounding community.

“I intimately know how it felt growing up in the community around USC,” said one campaign participant in the video. “The Good Neighbors Campaign is a good deed.”

As the video highlights certain areas surrounding the campus, one can see just how explicitly the community is asking for our help. And we have answered the call.

After-school teaching programs, robotics competitions and health fairs provided by the generous contributions and efforts of campaign participants have all improved the lives of many students and their families.

In reference to a Good Neighbors after-school initiative, one contributor said, “There are 40 kids who would otherwise be out in the street. This year there’s 40 kids who are in this loving, nurturing environment that’s redefining what their future possibilities are.”

But if there is one audience that the campaign video seeks to reach, it is undoubtedly Trojan students.

Although USC’s renowned Good Neighbors organization is typically funded by university staff and faculty contributions, the video makes it clear that students are equal stakeholders in the future success of the program. Their time and energy in this campaign is just as vital as the dollars poured into the program by countless donors.

Many students might feel so comfortable with their campus privileges that they forget the condition of the community surrounding them. They aren’t alone.

In the same video, one student in the pharmacy school said, “I always feel like, as a USC student, I’m very fortunate. We have great staff here, people who take care of us. And yet, I forget sometimes … that there are people who need us.”

Admittedly, other student organizations also do their part to advance the quality of our community.

Fraternities, sororities, political organizations, religious clubs and academic associations all play an active role in giving back to a cause greater than themselves.

Imagine that all of those organizations came together, worked alongside supportive faculty and staff and utilized their respective skills for the advancement of one cause. Surely we would send an even more favorable message to the community — that USC as a whole is engaged in improving the well-being of its local residents.

“We’ve become somewhat of a model for universities because of the Good Neighbors Campaign,” said another video participant. “We are engaging the community around us and making them feel a part of USC. We are one community.”

As USC students, we are on our way to redefining what it means to attain a college education during these times. Apart from hitting the books, we might also learn that part of our education means giving a little of our time to help shape our community just as it shapes us during our college years.

“Under the leadership of President Nikias, we will take the campaign to new heights,” said a campaign contributer in the video.

Under the leadership of students, the sky is the limit.

Stephen Zelezny is a sophomore majoring in public relations. His column, “USC on the Move,” runs Thursdays.