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Being a good neighbor can help HEAL a local community

HEAL program youth members Heriberto Alfaro and Eddie Mendoza chop produce grown in the Proyecto Jardin community garden in Boyle Heights. (Photo/courtesy of Proyecto Jardin)

Question: Can USC staff and faculty members help to transform the food environment of East Los Angeles?

Answer: Yes, if they contribute to the USC Good Neighbors Campaign.

The Community Youth Health Education and Action Leaders (HEAL) program teaches youth in the Boyle Heights area about urban agriculture and healthy food choices. A partnership between the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Patient Education and Community Outreach Center and Proyecto Jardin Community Garden, HEAL received a new grant of $45,000 in June from USC Neighborhood Outreach (UNO), which is funded by the Good Neighbors Campaign.

“We’re not only teaching youth about urban agriculture and transforming land into a food source for the local communities, but also how to impact policies and demand access to fresh, healthy food in their communities [schools, local stores, homes and community agencies],” said Zul Surani, program manager for community outreach and partnerships at the Norris cancer center. “This approach impacts the whole community eventually by making healthier choices, easier choices.”

The program is recruiting 10 youth members and one peer youth crew supervisor to participate in a 12-week institute that teaches skills to help the participants lead the development of a sustainable community food system.

The grant will also provide seed funding to start a community garden near the newly established Wellness Center.

The USC Good Neighbors Campaign, the university-wide faculty and staff fundraising effort, supports community organizations affiliated with the university and located in the neighborhoods surrounding the Health Sciences and University Park campuses. Nearly $14 million in UNO grants have been awarded to community programs since the campaign’s inception in 1993.

“UNO grants help us take our science to the streets,” Surani said. “We need a way to speed up this process of putting what works into circulation through a careful process of cultural adaptation.

“Leveraging UNO funds has helped us ensure that all our communities benefit equally from advances here at Norris,” he added. “It’s a matter of equity for us to ensure that members of our community just living across the street from us benefit from our work.”

The 2013 campaign runs through Oct. 31. For more information or to make a donation, visit

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Being a good neighbor can help HEAL a local community

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