Do the Right Thing

sam attisha


Working for the common good is a familiar enough concept. But Sam Attisha wants to figure out how we can do better when it comes to doing good.

When the vice president for business development and external affairs at San Diego’s Cox Communications was told to put together a TV show highlighting locals’ work to better the community, he jumped at the chance.

“Working for a company that’s focused on giving back is wonderful. It’s right up my alley,” says Attisha ’89 (BBA). “I’ve always had that focus in my life. It’s something I learned early on from my parents.”

The show, “Cox Conserves Heroes,” debuted in Seattle, but when the parent company wanted to expand its reach in 2009, Attisha took it a step further: “We wanted to take it to another level, San Diego style,” he recalls.

The result was “Cox Conserves: Environmental Heroes,” a TV-magazine spotlighting San Diego adults – and, for the first time, youth – and the sustainable work being done in the region. “This program tells the story that everyone has the ability to do the right thing when it comes to the environment,” Attisha says. “It focuses on people who go above and beyond. The impact they’ve made is unbelievable.”

Cox, in connection with The Trust for Public Land, Think Blue San Diego and Kyocera Communications, seeks nominations for locals and their projects. Attisha says 100 entries were received in 2010 and were ultimately whittled down to six finalists: three adults and three youth. The finalists’ stories were televised on Cox’ San Diego Channel 4 cable channel. An online vote helped determine how the $35,000 in prize money was split up, including $10,000 each to the overall winners in each category. (All money is donated back to the winners’ charity of choice.)

The 2010 adult and youth winners were Mark Jorgensen and Dakotah Flowers, respectively. Jorgensen was recognized for helping create an environmental education project, Camp Borrego, for more than 300 underserved local youth; Flowers’ project involved using recycled materials to create dolls that contain messages from children with AIDS living at Home for Kids in South Africa (HOKISA). The dolls have been auctioned and sold at fundraising events to benefit HOKISA’s orphaned children.

Bringing stories about these efforts to a wider audience delivers more awareness, and subsequently, greater good. The Pacific Southwest Emmy Awards saw it that way when they selected Attisha and his staff for an Emmy for Best Magazine Television Program.

“It was a team effort,” Attisha says of the win, with characteristic modesty. “There’s a host of people who contributed to it. It was a great feeling to be honored for a program that recognizes people who do amazing things in our community but don’t really get a whole lot of recognition.”

But getting attention for doing the right thing isn’t what Attisha is after. It’s simply the way he was raised. His parents, who emigrated from the Middle East to El Cajon, in 1970, made it their mission to be invested in their community.

“My parents were always focused on helping others. They were good stewards when we were growing up, fostering a positive environment for our family. Church was a central focus. Going to USD was important because of its emphasis on community service, thus giving a student more than just an academic education.”

Attisha, who was Associated Students President his senior year at USD, credits the late Judy Rauner, who founded and directed USD’s Center for Community Service-Learning, for furthering his interest in community service. “I was fortunate to know her. She was a wonderful person who was very much committed – at USD and in San Diego, but also on a global basis – to how individuals and companies can make a difference.”

He certainly practices what he preaches: Attisha serves on the board of several area organizations and points with pride to the efforts of more than 1,000 Cox employees, who donate a portion of their paychecks to the Cox Kids Foundation – money that’s matched 100 percent by the company. Proceeds from the foundation benefit local education and technology needs for San Diego children through grants and scholarships.

“I think companies that do well are those who bring employees into the discussion, get ideas and can engage their employees, because the environment today is all about change,” he said. “It’s all about being able to move quickly and being able to execute. The more you’re able to communicate and provide employees a sense of direction, the quicker they’ll buy in and get you where you need to go.” — Ryan T. Blystone