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Donors inspired to serve veterans through endowment

Maya Meinertby Maya Meinert
A student veteran celebrates with Dean Marilyn L. Flynn at the USC School of Social Work’s 2012 commencement ceremony.
A student veteran celebrates with Dean Marilyn L. Flynn at the USC School of Social Work’s 2012 commencement ceremony.

When Abby and Alan Levy’s daughter Jacqueline “Jackie” MS ’00 was in high school, she worked as a volunteer at Teen Line, answering phone calls from troubled teenagers.

One night, she got a call from a suicidal teenager and successfully convinced the teen to seek help. Not only did she save a life, but she also found her life’s purpose:  She wanted to dedicate her life to helping others. Jackie went on to graduate from the USC School of Social Work’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program in 2000.

“That experience inspired Jackie, but it also inspired us,” Alan said.

With the importance of serving veterans and their families growing more compelling every day, the couple has committed to the school $156,000, a combination of a five-year pledge and an estate gift, to create the Abby and Alan D. Levy Family Endowed Scholarship Fund. The scholarship aims to provide support for student veterans, especially those who have served in armed combat and who qualify for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Yellow Ribbon Program, the post-9/11 GI Bill that pays for some tuition and fees.

The Levys’ connection to military social work is twofold: Alan is a veteran who served during the Berlin Crisis in the Cold War, and their daughter had a significant experience treating a veteran client who had trouble dealing with his mental health issues.

“I was in my early 20s and a freshly minted combat engineer in the Army when the trouble in Berlin started. We were constantly being mobilized, then immobilized, then mobilized again. The angst of potentially going to combat was terrifying,” Alan recalled. “Returning service members, as well as reservists, have their lives disrupted, including having problems with their families, work and mental health. Abby and I wanted to direct these funds to fellow veterans so long as a situation exists where we need to support them this way.”

The Levys previously set up a scholarship for deserving MSW students in need of financial support with the Abby Levy Scholarship, which was established in 2007 when Abby was presented with the Crystal Heart award, the school’s highest honor for community service. As a volunteer and community leader, she has helped raise millions of dollars for Los Angeles-area institutions, including Westlake School for Girls, Women’s Guild of Cedars Sinai Medical Center and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Alan, chairman of commercial real estate company Tishman International Companies, has served on the School of Social Work’s Board of Councilors since 1999 and is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Harvard-Westlake School, where the Levy daughters attended. He said that his participation as a board member where his children received their educations inspired him to give to other children, so that they could have the same kinds of opportunities.

“Every time I go to a board meeting and see what they learn and the opportunities they have, I sit there with my mouth open and say, ‘Wow,’ ” he said. “You don’t have to be from a certain background to learn and succeed. If given the opportunity, anyone can succeed.”

He said that he’s learned a lot about the modern profession of social work from being a part of the School of Social Work, first as the parent of an MSW student and then as a board member.

“When I was growing up in St. Louis, the image of a social worker was a person who gave out ADC [aid to dependent children] checks,” he said. “Once I got involved in the USC School of Social Work, I found out about the breadth of community work that’s involved, including Professor Michalle Mor Barak’s diversity programs in corporate settings. Most people wouldn’t normally think of that as a social work endeavor.”

Abby noted how impressed she was with the quality of education Jackie received while at USC and how that opened her eyes to the importance of supporting aspiring social workers.

“I realized how complex and interesting social work could be,” Abby said. “Philanthropy is the obligation of anyone who can afford even the smallest amount to give back to the community. People should find something that inspires them and help support it.”

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