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Off to private school, thanks to strangers

When David and Jacki Horwitz read an article in The Times about Lorelei Oliver’s struggle to find a good school for her son Kamal Key, their response was immediate: Perhaps, they inquired, there was a fund to which they could contribute to help the 12-year-old, who had been admitted to a prestigious but costly private campus?

Three weeks and several phone calls and e-mails later, Kamal and his family sat in the backyard of the Horwitzes’ spacious Pacific Palisades home, laughing as if they had known each other for years. The couple’s initial offer of a modest donation for a little boy who was a complete stranger has led to the unexpected meeting of two families whose lives may now be intertwined for years.

The Horwitzes have now decided to pay the full cost of Kamal’s education for two years, seventh and eighth grade, at the Brentwood School, a private campus a short distance from their home off Sunset Boulevard. The annual tuition is $28,500.

After that, Brentwood, which like other private schools has seen requests for financial aid soar during the economic downturn, will provide Kamal a full scholarship for ninth through 12th grade, school officials said.

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All involved seem pleased, and a little surprised, at how quickly the solution fell into place.

“It’s a small group of human beings coming together, a bunch of people all caring about each other,” said Jacki Horwitz, 65, a professor of communications at Santa Monica College. “It’s so cool to be a part of it.”

Oliver, a business services representative for AT&T;, said she feels as if it’s all a dream. The article sparked dozens of offers of help, and Oliver said she has been touched by all of the responses.

“I feel like it’s Christmas,” she said, snapping pictures on the Horwitzes’ back patio on a warm June evening. It was the first time the families had met. Any awkwardness was quickly dispelled.

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“Look at your new backyard, Kamal, there’s even room to toss a football,” Oliver said playfully. “We’re going to be family, you’re stuck with us now,” Jacki announced. “No, you’re stuck with us,” replied Oliver, to laughs from the group, which included Kamal’s grandmother Loretta Oliver, 62, visiting from Texas.

There’s no playbook for situations like theirs, they acknowledged. The Horwitzes live close enough to the school that they can meet Kamal there regularly and attend his football games. They’ve exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses and are planning dinner with his family.

“It will be interesting to see how our interaction plays out,” said David Horwitz, 66, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. “We don’t want to interfere, but we want him to know we’re here to be whatever he needs.”

After the hugs at their first meeting, Kamal presented the Horwitzes with a thank-you card and a framed photo of himself holding an honor roll plaque on his graduation day from K. Anthony Schools, a private second-to-sixth-grade campus in Inglewood.

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He told the couple how excited he was to be attending Brentwood’s summer school and practicing for the school’s football team. As he played with the couple’s three dachshunds, Maggie, Teddy and Mickey, he appeared a little disbelieving at the turn of events.

Kamal, who lives in South Los Angeles, was admitted for the fall at Campbell Hall, a private North Hollywood campus, but the school was unable to offer him financial aid. He was put on a wait list at Brentwood, but that school also did not have enough financial aid for Kamal and many other qualified, financially needy candidates. While his mother searched for a safe, academically focused alternative, Kamal was unsure where he would be attending classes in the fall.

But a few weeks ago, Brentwood director of admissions Keith Sarkisian received a call from Horwitz.

“You could hear the energy in his voice and the commitment to make this happen, no matter what it took,” said Sarkisian. “We have so many people hurting in this economy, but here’s a guy who wants to change a kid’s life. Because we were so overburdened on financial aid, I don’t think we would have gotten Kamal had it not been for the Horwitzes.”

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The couple, who are down-to-earth, politically outspoken and disdainful of the pretensions of some of their Westside neighbors, said they enjoy a comfortable life, although they may have to cut back on some luxuries.

“David made a really good point that it’s one thing to give to charity, a political party or an initiative,” said Jacki. “But to give money that’s going directly to a person, who you didn’t know, that’s a whole other level. It becomes so personal.”

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carla.rivera@latimes.com

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