LOS ANGELES - A group of local students is making a big difference in the world, thanks to the generosity of some USC employees who have donated a percentage of their salaries to a worthy cause.
Among the beneficiaries is Yesenia Alvarez, who trained as a dental assistant with help from USC while she was in high school.
"Without this program, I would've been probably lost," Alvarez said. "I don't know what would've happened with me."
Alvarez is part of USC's Good Neighbors Campaign, which funds 51 different local nonprofits - including a dental office that serves area children, and a college preparatory program that boasts a 100 percent success rate.
The program is free to hundreds of kids from low-income neighborhoods surrounding USC.
"The Good Neighbors Campaign are helping the community become a safe and inspiring place," Alvarez said.
At a recent event in San Marino, USC President Max Nikias honored Alvarez and USC faculty and staff who donate more than 1 percent of their salaries to fund the program.
"It's very important to reach out to our neighbors in our community and lift them up so they are not left behind," Nikias said.
More than 5,000 USC faculty and staff contribute annually to the program. In over 23 years, it has raised more than $23 million for the community.
"I do this because it's the right thing to do," said USC's Carolina Castillo, director of the Good Neighbors Campaign. "I give back to the community because I've been helped in my youth."
Alvarez said the program changed her life.
"For me, growing up in South Central (Los Angeles), it was a place where you're not safe enough to walk around because you're scared that something might happen to you," she said. "But when you're in this program, you feel like, 'Oh, my God, I could escape out of here and I could actually come back to my community and make it more safe and healthier.'"