"I haven't gotten up this early all summer," yawned Monique Ho, a new freshman in the middle of her orientation week at UCLA. On her schedule Sept. 22: waking up at 7 a.m. to be part of a massive volunteer effort with 4,300 of her new friends, fellow UCLA first-years.
UCLA volunteers fill in a "Where the Wild Things Are" mural at Kester Elementary School.
UCLA students clear away brush and surprisingly large litter at Griffith Park.
"It was so hard to get up – a bunch of us were up talking in the lounge and playing games until 1:30 a.m. – but this is really cool," Ho said as she helped clear brush on overgrown trails at Point Dume State Beach. "In high school, so many people just did volunteer work to get into college, to put it on their application. That's what makes today so special – now you know everyone's doing it for a good reason."
In what is believed to be the nation's largest-ever university-organized volunteer day, an army of 4,300 UCLA freshmen and transfer students fanned out across Los Angeles to make the city a better place. For UCLA's first Volunteer Day, nearly 1,000 students began trail repair at Griffith Park, 1,000 more tackled beach clean-up at Point Dume and about 500 each beautified the Veterans Affairs hospital and five Los Angeles Unified School District campuses.
From Griffith Park and Point Dume to LAUSD schools across L.A., spirited eight-claps broke out repeatedly as new students dove into the day of service.
For the students, it was an opportunity to give back to the community, but also to bond with each other. They rode in 100 big yellow school buses, singing songs and — for some — catching a glimpse of Los Angeles for the first time. Although many were in a haze from the early-morning wake-up call, students on of the many buses trundling to Griffith park gazed with bleary-eyed awe at Sunset Boulevard before arriving at the park to clear away litter and flammable brush in view of the iconic Hollywood sign.
Students in UCLA Volunteer Day made it onto the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. Click here to watch the video.
"Being a Bruin means much more than getting your education at one of the nation's greatest academic institutions," said Antoinette Mongelli, executive director of UCLA's new Volunteer Center, which organized the event. "It means carrying into your life an in-your-bones dedication to public service."
At Kester Elementary School in Sherman Oaks, 215 volunteers swept, weeded, planted groundcover, laid mulch, touched up sports courts and painted elaborate murals, including one depicting Maurice Sendak’s perennial favorite, "Where The Wild Things Are."
Christina Barba, a new transfer student, carefully filled in the blue sky in the mural, which had been roughed out the day before by a professional muralist. "This was one of my favorite books growing up," she said. "I'm so excited this is the assignment we got."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (left) joins UCLA Chancellor Gene Block at Gompers Middle School.
The hours of work by UCLA volunteers will help Kester out "tremendously," said Principal Sue Goldberg.
Chancellor Gene Block, who has made volunteerism a priority since taking the reins at Murphy Hall in 2007, was joined by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at Gompers Middle School in South Los Angeles, where they applauded the 600 Bruins blanketing that campus. They scurried across the asphalt, repainting basketball-court outlines and giving buildings a new coat of paint.
"This is an opportunity right at the get-go to say, 'Service is important at UCLA,'" Block said. "UCLA Volunteer Day is an affirmation of UCLA's obligation, as a public university, to serve the community. … It's an opportunity for our students to help out, but hopefully it's just the beginning of a year long of service."
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block adds a new coat of paint to Gompers Middle School while his wife, Carol, steadies his ladder.
Photos and tweets about Volunteer Day poured in from students, staff and faculty all morning, documenting the details of the day on Twitter at #uclavol, an ever-growing Flickr photo page and an interactive photo-map.
All together, the 4,300 students, joined by 300 volunteer task captains – staff, faculty, alumni and returning undergrads – slathered on 555 gallons of paint, planted dozens of trees at schools, restored trails at Griffith Park, rebuilt sagging fences at Point Dume and more. But there was time for fun, too. At University High School, Bruins ended their visit by playing a college-vs.-high school soccer match. At Point Dume, some students plunged into the ocean for a refreshing dip after working on the trails.
Volunteer Day was organized in partnership with L.A. Works, a volunteer action center that links people with service opportunities, and sponsored by the Entertainment Industry Foundation, Hollywood's leading charitable organization, which provided a $250,000 grant.
The five LAUSD campuses benefitting from the platoons of volunteers were Gompers Middle School in South Los Angeles, University High School in West Los Angeles, Contreras High School and Gratts Elementary School in downtown Los Angeles, and Kester Elementary School in Sherman Oaks.
Across all the different work sites, those who care for the campuses and parks on a daily basis told students and volunteer task captains how much the work meant. At Point Dume, park ranger Dan Raducanu said the three hours of work by UCLA students added up to more volunteer time than the total put in all season by all 10 volunteer organizations in the vast Angeles state park district.
"I can't tell you how grateful we are – I'm just buzzing with excitement," Raducanu told the volunteers. "We have been fighting a losing battle to keep up with the enormous number of visitors, and we've had to overlook some tasks because of the tight budget. This will helps us bring the preserve back to the status quo. You're doing a world of good – more than you will ever know."
Carson High School graduate and UCLA freshman Diana Munoz charged breathlessly up a steep beachside hill, delivering water to her fellow students sweating on the trail. "We're so excited to see so many people involved," Munoz said. "Back in high school, no one wanted to volunteer, or if they did, it was always the same people, so it's really exciting to see this going on."
UCLA students use tape to mark out where they will freshen up lines for Kester Elementary's basketball courts.
Iraj "Roger" Samandi, part of a neighborhood volunteer group working at Point Dume for 10 years, said it was amazing to see so many helping hands.
"They did such a great job," Samandi said, pointing out how the UCLA volunteers had lined washed-out trails with rock borders, hidden illegal pathways under brush and protected native plant life with rock walls. "They have so much energy, and they've made this place safer for people to walk. They brought a lot of love to this mountain."
For more details, view the news release, read the press advisory, see the photo slideshow or watch the video: