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Community says thanks and farewell

Community Says Thanks and Farewell
Kid Watch volunteer Lilia Garcia, President Steven B. Sample and Salia Jimenez

There have been more than a few celebrations for the 10th USC president in the past few months, with more to come. They have featured an appearance by Traveler the horse and the Trojan Marching Band. In addition, Los Angeles officials proclaimed, not just a day but a week in honor of Steven B. and Kathryn Sample.

Nevertheless, a recent community celebration marking President Sample’s looming retirement was special. While many dignitaries, such as L.A. County Commissioner Mark Ridley-Thomas PhD ’89 , L.A. City Council members Jan Perry and Bernard Parks and USC senior vice president of university relations Martha Harris, spoke about their lifelong partnerships with Sample, it was clear who the VIPs were.

As host Thomas Sayles, vice president of USC Government and Community Relations, said during his opening remarks, the few hundred neighbors who filled the Galen Center’s Founders Room were as important as anyone.

They knew it, too. As soon as the pomp and circumstance was over, a trio of women proudly wearing their yellow Kid Watch T-shirts jostled with people in three-piece suits to get a picture with the president.

Kid Watch, which Sample created in 1996, organizes 1,000 parents and neighbors to oversee children as they walk to and from class every day, leading to safe streets and reassured students.

Kid Watch was one of the linchpins of Sample’s plan to turn University Park around.

“All it takes to turn around a troubled neighborhood is two things: safe streets and good schools,” Sample said. “It’s not easy to deliver those to a community. It’s tough. But if you can deliver safe streets and good schools – to any city in the United States – all the other good things happen on autopilot.”

A parade of grateful people followed Sample: the St. Agnes Parish School children’s choir; a fifth-grader whose farewell letter reminded the president to wear sunscreen at the beach during his retirement; and Yuri Guardado, who made it to college in large part because of the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a program started under Sample in 1991.

Guardado, who emigrated from El Salvador in the mid-1980s and attended Foshay Learning Center, joined the Neighborhood Academic Initiative in the seventh grade. She stayed with the program through high school, earned her political science degree at USC, graduated from Loyola University Law School and passed the bar two years ago.

Then there was the community theatre owner Jay McAdams. He reminded the crowd that one VIP in the audience was supposed to be the center of attention.

Over the past 13 years, McAdams has built the 24th Street Theatre into an acclaimed venue that attracts celebs such as Jack Black and Sandra Tsing Lo. But McAdams never stopped emphasizing community. With help from grants awarded by University Neighborhood Outreach, the theatre has taught thousands of children about art and life through free and low-cost afterschool programs.

University Neighborhood Outreach is the giving arm of the Good Neighbors Program, which Sample started in 1994. At the time USC faculty and staff were giving about $100,000 to the United Way. Last year USC employees gave a record $1.3 million to Good Neighbors, all of which funds programs in the immediate community.

“He had vision; he made it happen,” McAdams said, as he pointed at Sample. “He had this vision that the staff and faculty would break down barriers by giving money to people they did not know to help kids they hadn’t met in schools they’ve never been to – 400 programs and millions of dollars that go directly to families and kids.”

Sample did his best to deflect the praise.

“Today you’ve chosen to honor me for USC’s contributions to the local community,” Sample said, “but I want to honor you for the work you do each day to enhance, enrich and revitalize our neighborhoods.”

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