Los Angeles Developer Rick Caruso Donates $5 Million to Operation Progress

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Recognizing the needs of one of L.A.’s most vibrant yet challenged neighborhoods, and embracing the belief that education is the foundation for lifelong success, Rick and Tina Caruso of the Caruso Family Foundation today announced $5 million initiative to provide assistance to more than 200 at-risk youth in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Participating students will receive elementary, high school and college scholarship assistance together with after-school academic tutoring and weekend mentoring services.

The initiative will be coordinated through Operation Progress (www.OperationProgressLA.org), a nonprofit program established in 2000 by a group of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers in the Southeast Division who fight gang crime in South Los Angeles, specifically the community of Watts. Deeply moved by young students who worked hard to earn good grades and stay out of gangs, but who lacked financial opportunity, they sought to raise funds and assist these underprivileged youth. Since then Operation Progress has expanded to serve well-deserving inner-city youth across Los Angeles.

Operation Progress consists of an “ecosystem” of partners working in concert to provide a comprehensive support system for at-risk youth. Anchor schools include St. Lawrence of Brindisi, St. Mary’s Academy and Verbum Dei High School. After-school success programs include those administered by Operation Progress and Strive Los Angeles. In addition, Helping Young People Excel (HYPE) will provide gifted students with academic preparation, admissions, and financial aid assistance to attend one of L.A.’s elite private schools. Finally, all scholars will be eligible for the South Central Scholars (SCS) program that supports college-bound students with academic preparation, mentoring, and financial assistance through all four years of college. The Caruso Family Foundation is providing support to Operation Progress and each of the partner organizations.

The initiative’s goal is to support at least 200 students over the next decade, with partners working to guide scholars all the way through college graduation. Beyond academic success, the program’s “10 Pillars of Success” is aimed at developing well-rounded young men and women that will return to South Los Angeles, contribute to success of future scholars, and help strengthen our entire city.

Any Watts-area student may apply to become an Operation Progress scholar by visiting the website or by picking up an application at a participating school. Once accepted, students and parents sign a pledge to abide by the program’s standards. Depending on age and gender, students will be placed in a participating partner school, during which time they will also receive significant after-school and weekend mentoring and tutoring support from the partners. All scholars will be eligible for the South Central Scholars college program to ensure their academic and personal success in completing a four-year college education.

“Operation Progress was born in Watts, a historic neighborhood in South Los Angeles which was its own city before becoming part of Los Angeles just 87 years ago. This $5 million initiative will provide strong support for this program with a proven record of putting kids on the right track, helping them avoid gangs and violence, and giving them an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and gain a college education that’s increasingly critical for success,” said Rick J. Caruso, CEO of Caruso Affiliated and founder of the Caruso Family Foundation, who saw the birth of Operation Progress a dozen years ago while serving as former president of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners. 

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