Rick Caruso, a USC alumnus and businessman, has already been named “Developer of the Year” by the Los Angeles Business Journal and “Master Entrepreneur of the Year” by Ernst & Young LLP. His most recent award, though, comes from Pope Francis. Caruso has been awarded the Papal honor known as Knight Commander in the Order of the Knights of St. Gregory the Great.
Caruso received the award on Jan. 14 at Los Angeles Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for his extraordinary life of service to the Catholic Church and to his community.
In recent years, Caruso’s service has primarily consisted of helping children who are underserved and underprivileged. His philanthropic efforts are focused on those children who lack the means to a proper education and health care.
“I feel strongly that kids need to have an opportunity to live a full, healthy and happy life,” Caruso said.
Founded in 1991, the Caruso Family Foundation has contributed to funding Operation Progress, a program that pairs students with Los Angeles Police Department mentors in South Los Angeles. This organization supports children who are living in housing tracts in that area.
The program’s collaboration with the police force ensures that children have a safe means of arriving to school in the mornings. Moreover, by providing full scholarships, Operation Progress also encourages students to advance their education.
Additionally, the Caruso Family Foundation supports Para Los Niños, an organization founded on Skid Row in 1980. Para Los Niños is a nonprofit social services organization that is committed to aiding Los Angeles’s disadvantaged families. The organization gives children from the ages of six months to 14 years an opportunity to obtain an education.
Caruso has also endowed $25 million dollars to USC’s otolaryngology department. This donation has provided researchers the resources to develop new methods to treat hearing loss among children who suffer diseases related to the ear, nose and throat. This department is now known as the Caruso Department of Otolaryngology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
USC’s Catholic community has also benefitted from Caruso’s $7.5 million donation. The USC Caruso Catholic Center provides spiritual comfort for USC students.
“A lot of the service we do is done because of our faith, my belief system and what is important to us,” Caruso said.
Caruso intends to carry on his service work in the future.
“The future will be focused on those who do not have the same benefits the rest of us do,” Caruso said.
Caruso revealed that his faith and his belief in people plays a significant role in his desire to help the community. He plans to continue focusing his service work on health care through faith-based organizations in the future.
“All of the things we have in play, we are staying very engaged and very involved,” Caruso said.
According to Caruso, helping the community is a rewarding experience.
“We are all part of the same community here, and I really do believe that you are only as strong as the weakest point,” Caruso said. “We just have an obligation as human beings to lean in and help others.”
Caruso explained that his values are heavily based on helping others. He explains that he feels like he personally gains more from giving, compared to what he receives.
“You could always help other people who have less, and there are always people who have less or have a need,” Caruso said. “It may just be encouragement or a helping hand or friendship, but we should all be providing that because it’s part of being a member of the community.”
When asked about the qualities one should possess when striving for success, Caruso cited his success as the product of hard work and courage.
“Courage is one of my favorite words,” Caruso said. “Courage means you have fear, but you conquer your fear.”
Caruso also stressed the importance of maintaining a moral code. He believes that even in the competitive business world, dealings should be conducted with integrity, fairness and generosity. According to Caruso, such qualities will pay off in the long run.
Caruso encourages USC students to enjoy their time in college and to seize opportunities that come forth. He explained that students should graduate feeling like they have taken full advantage of the resources USC has to offer. He said students should hold onto their zest to learn in order to expand their range of interests and experiences.
“You never get those four years back,” Caruso said. “They will be four great years that will change your life and shape you in so many different ways.”