University of Southern California


Working with our neighbors to build a strong community

The USC Penny Harvest wrapped up its third successful year

The USC Penny Harvest Leadership Academy empowers Los Angeles-area elementary school students to give back to their community and provides USC students– from USC Dornsife and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism– with practical experience in civic engagement and nonprofit leadership.

This year, student leaders for Penny Harvest created a “Wheel of Caring” in which they identified key topics of concern in their community. They worked to persuade other students about the importance of foster care, animal shelters, homelessness, childhood cancer, and people with disabilities. In many cases, their curiosity and desire to address these issues were inspired by personal experience.

For Griffin Avenue Elementary School, the USC Penny Harvest provided an infrastructure and context within which the school community mobilized to help a student who was a victim of a violent crime, as they tripled the amount of funds raised in pennies to donate to his family.

After months of collecting pennies, student leaders from all schools took on the task of researching organizations that best served the cause of their choosing. In the second half of the year, they continued to develop skills in civic engagement and philanthropy. Concerned about gang violence in their community, students at Lou Dantzler Preparatory Charter Elementary School donated their funds to Homeboy Industries. Student leaders at Resurrection Catholic School approached the decision making process diligently, and were passionate about ensuring their funds were donated to an organization that would do the most good. At Sheridan Street Elementary School, the USC Penny Harvest inspired students to engage in frequent dialogue about topics in the news, keeping them engaged in global, as well as domestic, issues.

The amounts raised were as follows:

Griffin Avenue Elementary School: $914 to the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Los Angeles and a local animal shelter

Sheridan Street Elementary School: $1222 to the Unification of Disabled Latin Americans

Lou Dantzler: $ TBD to Homeboy Industries

Resurrection Catholic School: $1365 to the Children’s Cancer Unit at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and L.A. Animal Services (local animal shelter)

To provide further education on civic engagement, a new component was added to this year’s Penny Harvest activities. Student leaders from Griffin spoke before a Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council meeting in April, where they presented to elected officials about the impact of the Penny Harvest, addressing foster care, and requesting that the Council match the funds they raised. Students also asked for help renovating their old auditorium. The Council was highly welcoming and appreciated the students’ presentation. A decision has yet to be made regarding the funding.

Earlier, the students participated in a Leadership Academy at USC’s University Park Campus, hosted by Dr. Ann Crigler’s undergrads in her political science class. A survey from the Academy showed an increase in self-efficacy, or level of confidence in the ability to complete a goal, in the students with respect to (1) getting help from adults and friends when they have social problems; (2) finding community resources and making good use of them for the school; and (3) serving as a good example for the community. This may serve as proof that when children have the resources to address a problem they care about, the result is an observable amount of growth in their capacity for leadership, interpersonal connection, and generosity.