How JEP Created A Home Away From Home

By Sam Newman

Growing up in a small suburb in the middle of Long Island, New York, I was a kid that loved to get involved in the community. Whether it was through a program at the local library, helping the elderly learn how to send an email, or volunteer work at my elementary school, helping the kindergartners do a science experiment with marshmallows and toothpicks, I loved the inspiration I received when helping others.  Therefore, upon arriving at the University of Southern California, I found it imperative to discover a service niche in which I could participate.  Luckily, the opportunities for volunteer work at USC are limitless.

One day after class (it was a Monday I believe),  I walked up the steps of the awkwardly placed house at the end of Trousdale and gingerly watched my head as I stepped under the “JEP Sign-Up Now!” banner.  Earlier that week, I had learned about the Joint Educational Project, and their mission to have USC students assist and tutor in the classrooms of local schools around the USC area, schools that are typically made up of kids from low income and struggling families.  A few weeks later, I was kneeling down at the world’s tiniest table in Mrs. Oldaker’s kindergarten class at the 32nd Street School, trying to sound out the word “dog” to a cute little girl with pigtails. “D-aw D-aw D-aw,” I said trying to make a “D” sound.  The young girl understood and scribbled the letter “D” onto her paper.  The next two letters provided more of a challenge.  “Aw-G Aw-G Aw-G,” I said, recognizing that the letter “O” did not sound like itself in this scenario and that the odds of her figuring that out were slim to none.  Mrs. Oldaker approached and reassured me that the young students did not need to get it right every time, just as long as they were practicing the letters of alphabet and getting used to the sounds.  To be honest, I don’t know how Mrs. Oldaker has been teaching kindergarten for 24 years (25 next September she consistently reminded me). It is hard work!

As I begin my life here at USC, volunteering through the Joint Educational Project has been an amazing experience.  The program has allowed me to step-off campus in a way that students so rarely do.  Through the research component of the program, I am able to enhance my knowledge of the local community and its correlations to topics like health, public outdoor spaces, economics, and racially segregated neighborhoods.  This newfound knowledge provides me with a greater understanding of the information being taught by my professors.  Walking through the streets, now understanding the history of the area and how harsh situations have lead to certain situations, has given me a newfound respect for the people of the area. The experience of going into this community underscores the value of the JEP service for both parties, for me as the volunteer and for the kids of the community as the students.  I am a firm believer that volunteer service should be a part of everyone’s life; it is that unique movement outside of your everyday life that builds new pathways to understanding the world and the problems that exist within it.

Though I’m only two months into my second semester at USC, never in my life have I met so many people from so many walks of life (from Beijing to London to Tulsa) and learned so much in such a short period of time!  I am  so lucky to have found a home away from home at USC and a constant source of experiences of which I can be proud at JEP.

Featured image by Ken Lund on Flickr

Sam is an enthusiastic, passionate, and creative student at the School of Cinematic Arts. He enjoys everything film and television, and loves to talk about it too. Coming from New York, an appreciation for different cultures is in his blood. In addition to the entertainment industry, Sam is well versed in sports, international current events, and world history. In high school, Sam was the Executive Editor of his school’s online newspaper, Executive Producer of the Video Yearbook, and President of the school’s Student Council. All of these have given him a diverse set of knowledge that he loves to discuss! He loves to hike, bike, and eat exotic foods. Having two dogs of his own, he is also an avid animal lover.