A fifth-grade homework assignment at 28th Street School in Los Angeles dramatically changed Jonathan Ruiz’s life.
Ruiz’s teacher assigned his class to apply for the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a precollege enrichment program designed to prepare low-income neighborhood students for admission to a college or university. He was accepted.
Fast forward a few years. After graduating from USC with a bachelor’s in English, Ruiz currently serves as director of business development for a publishing company.
“I’ve come full circle,” he said. “I started off as an English learner. … I was the first one in my family to go to college, and it raised expectations for everyone in the family.”
Ruiz’s success story mirrors that of hundreds of others in the NAI, one of several programs that receive funding from the USC Good Neighbors Campaign (GNC).
Organized by USC Civic Engagement, GNC was launched in 1994 to focus employee giving on the communities surrounding the University Park and Health Sciences campuses.
Since then, more than $14 million has been raised for the GNC. Given that all campaign costs are covered by the university, 100 percent of the funds go directly to support university-community partnerships.
“At USC, we are so proud to partner with our surrounding communities and to build vital programs that benefit everyone,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “We share our aspirations and accomplishments with our neighbors, and they bring their creativity, talent and passion to our campuses. We have a mutually beneficial bond that will only grow stronger in the coming years.”
Pledges and gifts to last year’s campaign totaled more than $1.5 million — the goal was set at $1.4 million — with nearly 40 percent of USC faculty and staff contributing. In 2010, more than 6,000 faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university contributed an average of $200 to the campaign with single donations or payroll deductions.
This year, GNC has set its fundraising goal at $1.6 million, kicking off the campaign with a celebration on Sept. 28 on the Health Sciences Campus; the University Park Campus celebration will be held Oct. 2 in Alumni Park.
“The USC Good Neighbors Campaign is unlike any other employee giving program. Faculty, staff, students, local schools and nonprofits are empowered in meaningful partnerships that make a difference in the lives of our neighbors every day,” said Carolina Castillo, executive director of development for USC Civic Engagement. “The Good Neighbors Campaign is another source of pride for me as a member of the Trojan Family.”
To date, 501 grants totaling $12.7 million have been given to support community organizations affiliated with the university and located within the surrounding neighborhoods of both university campuses.
The 2012-13 grant recipients include the HSC Community Health and Wellness Fair, which provides preventive health services and screenings; the STAR Program, which provides high school students with a mentored, hands-on science experience in a USC laboratory; the After ’Cool Theatre Program, which provides professional-caliber, after-school arts instruction to community youth; and USC ReadersPlus, which provides one-on-one tutoring in reading and math to thousands of children in classrooms at five neighborhood schools.
Donations can be made entirely online at communities.usc.edu/gnc and through a GNC gift packet that will be mailed out to university employees this week.
The GNC runs through Oct. 31, but donations can be made at any time during the year.
To view the campaign’s online giving page, visit communities.usc.edu/gnc