USC Price School of Public Policy

USC Price course gives $10,000 to local educational nonprofits

January 27, 2014

By Cristy Lytal

Student Aaron Soskin, left, with Dyane Pascall and Neelam Sharma from Community Services Unlimited (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Student Aaron Soskin, left, with Dyane Pascall and Neelam Sharma from Community Services Unlimited (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Tasked with giving away a total of $10,000 to up to five Los Angeles-based nonprofits, USC students in the course, “The Nonprofit Sector and the Public Interest,” voted to invest in the future.

“Most of the nonprofits had to do with various aspects of serving children or youth, and several focused on increasing educational opportunities, assisting with applying and gaining entrance to college, or increasing literacy,” said USC Price School of Public Policy professor emeritus Richard Sundeen, who teaches the course each fall. “I imagine the USC students see that as a sound investment for the future.”

The Learning by Giving Foundation funds the $10,000 used in the course. The funding program – which started in 2003 – supports nonprofit organizations while giving undergraduates hands-on experience with philanthropy. The first grant came to USC and Sundeen in 2010.

Professor Rich Sundeen and student Whitney Tolar with a representative from 826LA in Echo Park

Professor Rich Sundeen and student Whitney Tolar with a representative from 826LA in Echo Park (Photo by David Giannamore)

The USC Price course required pairs of students to choose Los Angeles-based nonprofits to research. At the end of the semester, each pair presented its findings to the class as a persuasive pitch asking for a grant of between $2,000 and $10,000 to support a project proposal designed by the students in conjunction with a representative of the organization.

After a spirited debate and vote, the class decided to give $4,500 to 826LA, $3,000 to Community Services Unlimited and $2,500 to Heart of LA (HOLA).

Policy, Planning, and Development (PPD) major Taylor Wolfson and American Studies and Ethnicity major Melina Sutton received $2,500 for Heart of LA (HOLA), which provides underserved youth with programs in academics, arts and athletics. To provide innovative educational opportunities for these students, HOLA has partnered with prominent organizations ranging from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the Lakers.

Students Taylor Wolfson and Melina Sutton at Heart of LA (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Students Taylor Wolfson and Melina Sutton at Heart of LA (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Despite HOLA’s overall success, the organization still had unmet needs — especially in the area of parent programs. To help address that these needs, the grant will fund a parent reading program.

“It was really one of the most gratifying phone calls of my life, being able to call the woman at HOLA after we got out of the class in which we argued and we debated over where to give the money, and to tell her that we were able to get them the money,” said Wolfson. “I could just feel the excitement in her voice. To be able to make a real difference in the community out of a group project, that’s an experience I could not have had otherwise.”

International Relations major Michael Lampe and Business Administration major Aaron Soskin secured a $3,000 grant for Community Services Unlimited (CSU). Established in 1977, the South Los Angeles nonprofit fosters communities that actively address the inequalities and systemic barriers to sustainable communities and self-reliant lifestyles.

The grant will go to CSU’s internship and apprenticeship program, “From the Ground Up,” which offers training for at-risk youth. These interns and apprentices learn to grow local organic produce at urban farms, and sell it to customers at two community produce stands and through the Farm Fresh Produce Bag subscription program, and to local restaurants and caterers.

“I was honored to receive the support of my classmates and the Learning by Giving Foundation for our grant proposal,” Lampe said. “The greatest lesson I learned was to take initiative in supporting the local community by taking more innovative classes with real-world impact. I believe in the importance of giving back to the community around the university that has granted me so many amazing opportunities.”

PPD major Meredith Henning and English major Whitney Tolar made the pitch for 826LA, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center with locations in Mar Vista and Echo Park. Founded in 2005, 826LA provides students ages six to 18 with free writing support, including after-school tutoring, field trips, workshops, in-school programs and assistance with student publications. Both 826LA locations also feature Time Travel Marts, which sell student writing anthologies along with out-of-time oddities such as robot toupees, centurion helmets and fresh dinosaur eggs.

The $4,500 grant will support 826LA’s new in-school program at Manual Arts Senior High School, which is also part of the USC Family of Schools program that provides educational, cultural and developmental opportunities to more than 17,000 students in the local community.

“I learned a lot in the course,” Henning said, “and it will certainly make me think when writing a grant, presenting or just speaking on behalf of an organization in the future.”

According to Sundeen, many of the students in the course had previously served as volunteers in the community and were already aware of some of the challenges faced by youth. “I think they see young kids, and they say, ‘I hope they can have the same opportunities that I’ve had.’ ”

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