UCLA’s 10th annual Volunteer Day is coming on Sept. 29, when thousands of volunteers will spread across the city to contribute their time to the Los Angeles community. For the first time, Volunteer Day will also be a global day of service.
Employees, alumni and other off-campus Bruins were invited to organize their own volunteer projects anywhere in the world. In addition to dozens of local volunteer projects organized by UCLA, externally planned projects currently include conducting a village clean-up in Namibia, organizing food donations at a pantry in Pennsylvania, restoring monarch butterfly habitats in Minnesota and a managing a blood drive in Hong Kong.
In another first for Volunteer Day, returning students, along with staff, faculty and alumni can also register as regular volunteers, while before they could participate only as task captains and project leaders guiding UCLA’s newest students. Registration is scheduled to shortly before Volunteer Day, and several sites are already full.
“Volunteer Day is a cornerstone of the UCLA experience, and one of the first activities new Bruins participate in when they come to UCLA,” said Ashley Love-Smith, director of the UCLA Volunteer Center. “For the 10th Volunteer Day, we are extending our reach to harness the civic pride and commitment to service shared by Bruins everywhere.”
Since it began in 2009, Volunteer Day has included more than 52,000 volunteers working on more than 300 projects across the Los Angeles area. Volunteer Day participants have contributed in excess of 300,000 volunteer hours at an estimated value to the community greater than $8 million.
The Volunteer Center, which is also celebrating its 10th year, has organized more than 100 projects for the year-round One Bus, One Cause program and has also supported student volunteers in teaching English to UCLA employees through Project SPELL, which has grown into its own program. The Volunteer Center recently moved to UCLA Alumni Affairs from UCLA Government and Community Relations, increasing the ability to connect with alumni.
“Our alumni are naturally inclined to help others and support their communities,” said Julie Sina, the associate vice chancellor of alumni affairs. “Now that we’re formally reaching out to all our former students about Volunteer Day, we’re hearing from so many Bruins who are excited to bring UCLA’s spirit of community service spirit to their own communities, around the country and around the world.”
Making Volunteer Day easier to participate in has energized alumni, said Karen McClain, the lead organizer of the 10th Volunteer Day.
“Expanding Volunteer Day from a first-year student experience to a global day of service is truly making an impact around the world, and it’s also spreading one of our True Bruin values: a commitment to service,” said McClain, who is also senior director of athletics partnership and strategic initiatives for alumni affairs.
The volunteer center also has its own cadre of alumni: 79 Volunteer Center Fellows so far. Over the years, the fellowship awardees have gone on to a variety of service-oriented positions, working in special education, public health and corporate social responsibility. Ann Wang, one of the first fellows, was a new student the year of the first Volunteer Day. With another UCLA student, Wang co-founded Enrou, a company that partners with artisans in developing communities worldwide to sell their products in its online marketplace, funneling money back into those communities. Her business pitch won $400,000 in a Forbes competition.
“I learned a lot from my work in the Volunteer Center,” Wang said. “At a time when the center had been around less than a year, I saw how scrappy and entrepreneurial we could be to achieve big results. I learned a lot about how to partner with non-profits, and when I started my own company, I felt comfortable on the phone making deals and shaping goals. It was crucial training.”
Another former fellow, Alesha Unpingco, now combines design technology, business and social good in her work as a user-experience designer at Google. She is an advisor and public speaker on topics like improving access to information resources or introducing students to emerging technology in ways that support education. In her spare time, she mentors students through their first year of college.
“I’m committed to education, empowerment and community building,” Unpingco said. “Working with the Volunteer Center’s founding director, passionate campus advisors, and various student leaders to shape the volunteer center in its early stages fostered my entrepreneurial drive.”
In previous years, every new student has been encouraged to wake up on Volunteer Day, climb on a bus and volunteer. This year, to encourage a stronger sense of civic connection, new students are encouraged to register in advance for whichever one of the dozens of projects most speaks to them.
This year’s projects take place at schools and homeless shelters, veterans’ sites and foodbanks, retirement homes, community gardens and more. With dozens of sites in Los Angeles, and a still-growing number of global locations, the 10th Volunteer Day promises to have its widest-reaching impact yet.
Editor’s note: On Sept. 28 a reference to a beach clean-up in Puerto Rico was removed from this story because the event was cancelled.