Now in its 35th year, the College’s Joint Educational Project (JEP) has changed the lives of thousands of people — student volunteers and those they help. A nationally recognized center for community involvement, JEP opened in 1972 and more than 50,000 USC students have participated in its service-learning programs.
During an anniversary ceremony on Friday at the pale yellow, wood-frame JEP House, scores of well-wishers celebrated its past and its promise.
“This is so great,” Tammara Anderson, JEP’s executive director, said under an archway of cardinal and yellow balloons floating above the porch of the JEP House, on the University Park campus. “So many of our former staff members are here to help celebrate. It’s like a reunion.”
Dick Cone, JEP’s executive director for a quarter-century until his retirement in 2002, came with his daughter, Mariah, a former JEP volunteer who graduated from the College in 1996.
“The most common metaphor for JEP is ‘family,’ ” Cone said, while USC student Charles Taylor played Bach Suite No. 1 on the viola for the revelers. “This is like a second home to me.”
Others in attendance included the Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, the holder of USC’s first endowed chair, the John R. Tansey Chair in Christian Ethics, and Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of USC’s Office of Religious Life.
“I have a very, very high regard for JEP,” said Laemmle, who once joined forces with JEP for a literature class at the College.
College Dean Peter Starr spoke during the event, pointing out that JEP’s efforts have produced a total contribution of more than one million hours of service.
“We’re here in celebration of the wonders JEP faculty and staff do everyday,” Starr told the crowd. “On behalf of the College, I must tell you how proud we are of JEP.”
Anderson, who on behalf of JEP accepted congratulatory honors from two community agencies, noted JEP’s progression.
“Years ago, we were seen as a program that did good things for people,” Anderson said. “But it’s not enough to be do-gooders. Now, we’re rightfully seen as a national model for community-service learning. We’re connecting students who are learning in the classroom with what’s happening in the real world.”
Student volunteers spend time in clinics and hospitals helping doctors. They go to foster care and juvenile facilities and mentor youth. They visit shelters for the homeless or battered women, and aid families. They frequent schools, teaching subjects from Greek mythology to biology to French.
The USC students incorporate their community experience into courses in subjects such as sociology, geology or biological sciences. For example, for a sociology course about juvenile delinquency, JEP staff work with the course instructor to craft a curriculum based on the class textbook but that also connects to the reality of the street.
“The text might talk about the 10 common myths about so-called juvenile delinquents,” said Susan Harris, JEP’s director of academic programs. “By the end of the semester, our JEP volunteers, based on what they see volunteering in juvenile facilities will have to confirm or challenge those 10 myths.”
Each year, JEP places about 2,200 students from 20 departments throughout the university in agencies and schools at more than 50 community sites. In 2000, Time Magazine/Princeton Review recognized JEP’s integral role in USC’s commitment to public service when it featured USC as its College of the Year. The publication based the accolade largely on the College’s longtime support of community-service learning.
Barbara Seaver Gardner, then-director of the College’s center for urban affairs, launched JEP 35 years ago as a way to ease tension and build a bond between the expanding university and the surrounding community.
“Barbara was told by two of the nation’s most prestigious foundations that they wouldn’t fund JEP because they knew it wouldn’t succeed,” said Anderson, whom Gardner hired in 1981. “Fortunately, Barbara didn’t listen to the skeptics.”
Gardner and her small staff raised funds and obtained grants, and quickly grew out of their small space.
“So she went to the president [John R. Hubbard] and said, ‘You have to find me some more space or I’ll pitch a tent in front of the Doheny Library,’ ” Anderson said. “They quickly found a place because they knew Barbara would do it.”
In 1976, JEP moved to their current home, 801 West 34th St., built in the 1890s, where USC’s fourth president George F. Bovard once lived.
In 1993, JEP obtained a $1 million endowment from Henry Salvatori to further expand its programs. Gardner learned about the endowment shortly before she died of lung cancer at age 68 in August 1993. Four years later, Salvatori died, leaving another $500,000 to JEP in his will.
Maria Caldren, who was Gardner’s first staff member 35 years ago, also attended the anniversary event.
“Barbara would be so proud to see how much JEP has evolved,” said Caldren, who retired from JEP in 1994. “She would be like a peacock bursting at the chest. She’d say, ‘You know what? It’s about time.’ ”