On Sept. 29, UCLA doctoral student Louis Tse will paint a veteran’s home in downtown Los Angeles. UCLA medical researcher and alumnus Brandon Lung will clear trash from Ballona Creek. UCLA Alumni’s diversity program coordinator Ashley Love-Smith will distribute school supplies to elementary school students in Koreatown.
And approximately 7,297 other Bruins will join them.
For the university’s sixth annual Volunteer Day, these 7,300 volunteers will spread out across Los Angeles County, working in more than 40 locations and providing the equivalent of more than $900,000 worth of work on projects at schools, veterans’ sites, shelters, senior centers, parks, food banks and neighborhood centers. It’s the one of the nation’s largest volunteer projects, and the largest community participation event for new students.
About 800 of the volunteers are returning students, alumni, employees and community members, but for the roughly 6,500 freshmen and new transfer students who start their first classes a few days later, the day is a crash-course in what it means to be a Bruin. Chancellor Gene Block’s emphasis on public service led to the creation of the Volunteer Center and Volunteer Day in 2009.
“Through Volunteer Day, we are emphasizing to students how improving the quality of life in Los Angeles and truly engaging with those around us are integral to a UCLA education,” Block said. “We’ve seen how starting off the school year with service inspires Bruins to stay involved throughout their academic careers and even after graduation.”
The project leaders at each of the Volunteer Day sites are walking examples of that spirit, finding service opportunities all year and returning every September for the annual blow-out. For example, when Tse isn’t planning this year’s Volunteer Day visit to the veterans’ transitional housing program in downtown L.A., the mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral student is guiding graduate students on weekly visits to distribute food and clothes on a street corner in downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row.
“I’m really excited about connecting with the people we help, and seeing life through their eyes,” Tse said. On Volunteer Day, the student volunteers will beautify the building, but the day is also about making sure that both the community and the students connect and appreciate the impact they have on each other, Tse explained.
“The vets are as pumped as we are,” he said. “We’re all excited to meet and work together.”
Among other projects, students will also work with veterans at the Veterans Home of West Los Angeles, connect with seniors at the Angelus Senior Center downtown, beautify campuses and talk with students at K-12 schools across Los Angeles, restore hiking trails at Griffith Park and sort donations at food banks.
One of the biggest projects on Volunteer Day will be at Los Angeles Elementary School in Koreatown, where 200 volunteers will paint, mentor, and give the almost 900 students $45,000 worth of school and dental supplies donated by the nonprofit K to College. Block and Senate President pro Tem-elect Kevin De León will be among those speaking at a school assembly.
The beautification and painting projects that will take place at Los Angeles Elementary would take weeks or even months to complete without the UCLA volunteers, but the most important benefit for the kids will be meeting local college students, said Principal Rafael Alvarez.
“Events like this make college tangible for our kids,” Alvarez said. “We have so many great universities in Los Angeles, but for so many kids, it’s not in their thoughts — those schools may as well be on the East Coast. Meeting college students makes it concrete and brings college that much closer.”
Of the school’s nearly 900 students, 65 percent are learning English as a second language, and all are from low-income families, with every student qualifying for the free breakfast and lunch programs.
“UCLA’s Volunteer Day inspires hope for everyone involved,” De Léon said. “When you donate your time, the difference made is tremendous and it shapes our communities for the better. Knowing you made a positive impact is an emotionally uplifting experience that can never be matched by money or fame.”
Since UCLA Volunteer Day began in 2009, the first five years involved a combined 30,000-plus Bruins at 163 different community partner sites in all 15 city council districts and five county supervisorial districts in Los Angeles.
“Volunteer Day is designed to emphasize to all students and the greater UCLA community that volunteerism is at the essence of being a Bruin,” said Rachel Corell, director of the UCLA Volunteer Center. “It’s a call to action that inspires many Bruins to volunteer year round.”
The annual day of service is organized by the Volunteer Center, which asks community partners for a wish list of what they would like accomplished by Bruins on Volunteer Day, and the center sets up the leadership, supplies, and training to make their wishes come true. Throughout the year, the Volunteer Center solicits recommendations for volunteer locations from locals and elected officials, and arranges volunteer opportunities for Bruins eager to stay involved in the community.
On Sept. 29, Volunteer Day can also be found on social media using #BruinsGiveBack or @UCLAVolunteer and by visiting the Volunteer Center pages on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram. Get instructions for sharing your own stories and photos.