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Saving Verbum Dei

Daood Obaid [nid:6664] and Karen Dodd | 4/29/2009, 5 p.m.

Los Angeles, CA -- Verbum Dei High School is in financial trouble and the question is what can be done to ensure its doors stay open. Verbum Dei is a well known four-year preparatory school for boys located in Watts. Founded in 1962, the school flourished through the turbulent '60s and '70s amidst the numerous riots and neighborhood uprisings.

The school has even managed to survive through increasing area gang and drug activity. The current economic downturn however, may prove to be too much for Verbum Dei and has left the school struggling to keep afloat.

This cry has been heard before by Daniel Murphy Catholic High School which closed in 2008. The school suffered a decline in enrollment and an increase in operating expenses which caused serious financial problems.

"The Archdiocese provides less than 1% of the school's (Verbum Dei) yearly budget. Basically, we must rely mainly on tuition, fundraisers, donations and our Corporate Work Study Program in order to meet our financial obligations," stated Bill Heffernan, vice president of Verbum Dei.
In desperation, Heffernan contacted comedian, actor and activist, Dr. Bill Cosby, to rally support from the community. Dr. Cosby was touched by the school's crisis and immediately became a voice for Verbum Dei.

Recently, Daood Obaid, a freelance writer and radio personality for 103.5 FM radio, conducted an interview with Cosby (BC) and Heffernan (GH) about Verbum Dei's financial situation and the steps they have taken to garner support from the community.

The following are excerpts from the Daood Obaid (DO) Interview:

DO: Dr. Cosby, can you talk about the importance of Verbum Dei High School (VDHS) and how you got involved?
BC: Mr. Heffernan called and it was more of a call for help. He wanted to keep the school alive...to keep the school going. The school itself is in need of funding. I suggested that we get together and invite the community to come in and listen. I felt if the community could feel it and hear it, then after being asked to contribute, would in fact, save a great jewel of the community.

DO: Mr. Heffernan, can you provide some history and a present day perspective regarding VDHS's financial crisis?
GH: Verbum Dei was founded by the Divine Word (Missionaries) where the Latin word "Verbum Dei" comes from. It was a school for the inner city where young men really excelled in their studies. But as the neighborhood began to struggle in the 80s with crack cocaine and movement of people to the suburbs, the school got into financial difficulties and nearly closed in 2000.
We're struggling just to get through our expenses this year, especially for May through August.
We're constantly talking to people and Dr. Cosby was kind enough to put his name on 18 to 20 letters to people we hoped would help us out. We've been very challenged and haven't gotten a lot of responses.

DO: Dr. Cosby, what do you want from the Los Angeles community concerning VDHS?
BC: I want all of the community to realize that they can change in terms of giving. This is to say that people who are not giving need to think seriously about the good they can do by reaching into their pockets. If the entire community galvanizes, if the churches spoke about it and made this important, a jewel of the culture...why can't the community rise up and give back in a time of crisis?

DO: Mr. Heffernan, can you describe some of the school's programs and explain why this institution is vital to the community?
GH: The mission statement of Verbum Dei is that we develop self-confident men who are intellectually motivated, spiritually rooted, contemplative and courageous in pursuing part of a humane and just world. We make students aware that there is a need to help in other ways. Once you're helped, how can you help others? Here at Verbum Dei, they're able to see that they have value. Not only are we teaching them to be contemplative so they can be closer to God, we are teaching them to follow the right path and how they can be of service to others. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told me the other day, 'I don't want to see that school close. I want you to stay open because of what you represent.' And it is our hope that we can represent it to others as well.

DO: Mr. Heffernan, who are your current supporters and what other local politicians have you spoken with besides the Mayor?
GH: I've been meeting with Congresswoman Laura Richardson who is part of the Black Caucus and she has been an angel. She and her staff have been really wonderful in helping us get some funds for next year, especially in the Corporate Work Study Program. We do have foundations...a number of foundations have helped us over the years, but when this financial crisis hit, we lost some of those donations which put us in a real pinch. Our Corporate Work Study Program is supposed to bring in 60-70% of our operating expenses, but it takes years to get these kids all employed in these various positions and a number of them are working for non-profits which are not paid. So we've cut our budget considerably.

Closing:

DO: Mr. Heffernan, what would you like to say in closing and how can the community contact you?
GH: I would obviously like to say, whatever you can do to help us out financially, give us a call, and visit the school. My door is always open. When people visit the campus, they do not leave unchanged. If there's any way...or maybe you know someone who wants to help us out. We're very appreciative of every dime or nickel.

DO: Dr. Cosby, what would you like to say?
BC: Don't let this school fail. I want you to value this school, and if you can value this school as a jewel, which can be so bright and represent Watts, something to be proud of...the role model...don't let it fail.

Contact Information:
For anyone who wishes to donate to Verbum Dei, please contact Vice President Greg Heffernan at (323) 564-6651 ext. 49. Verbum Dei High School is located at 11100 Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90059. Visit their website: www.verbumdei.us.