This story is from UCLA Today, a discontinued print and web publication.
Bruins hit the streets for UCLA's fourth annual Volunteer Day
Cynthia Lee |
*** Updated story ***
In their first week as UCLA students, nearly 6,500 new freshmen and transfer students learned an important lesson about the rewards of volunteering and the high hopes the university has that they will make a lasting commitment to giving back to the community.
The students, some still groggy from an early-morning wake-up call, boarded 130 buses near their residence halls at 8:30 a.m. to participate in UCLA's fourth annual Volunteer Day, a massive undertaking in which they, along with 600 other Bruin volunteers, fan out across Los Angeles to work at more than 50 schools, parks, homeless shelters, senior and veterans centers, food banks, and other community sites.
Utah Street School assembly.
"Of all the activities planned for us to do this first week, this is the one that I think is most meaningful," said Julie Lee, a freshman from Riverside, Calif., who was waiting with her new roommates to board a bus headed for Nickerson Gardens, a public housing complex in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Once there, the students would be put to work planting trees and doing in other landscaping activities around the apartments.
"I think doing something constructive like this is a nice way to start out here," Lee said. "And we're all doing this together."
For thousands of UCLA students, Volunteer Day is their introduction to places they've never set foot in before and an opportunity to show their spirit of volunteerism by painting murals, scrubbing walls, passing out food and school supplies, pulling weeds from nature trails, dancing with seniors at a downtown senior center, building and refurbishing community gardens, and giving K–12 students advice on how to prepare for college.
UCLA's annual Volunteer Day, launched on Sept. 22, 2009, is a major initiative by Chancellor Gene Block to encourage the entire campus community — students, faculty, staff and alumni — to make a lifelong commitment to helping others through community service. Over the last four years, the event has become a traditional highlight of the annual True Bruin Welcome, a time when new freshmen and transfer students begin to connect with the university and learn about its values through a week of events, including a music concert, activity fair, book discussions and dinner with the chancellor.
Scheduled two days before classes begin, Volunteer Day 2012 is the largest of these events so far. It has special significance because it involves the campus community as a whole; roughly 600 UCLA staff, faculty, alumni, upperclassmen and others have helped to plan, organize and oversee this day of service to demonstrate how seriously UCLA takes its role as a national leader in volunteerism.
Chancellor Block, state Assembly Speaker John Perez, Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar and other civic leaders visited Utah Street School in Boyle Heights, where UCLA students were busy painting murals and distributing $40,000 worth of school supplies and dental kits donated by the nonprofit group K to College to approximately 480 K–8 students.
"We're trying to instill a sense of importance about service to the community, even before the first day of classes begin," said Block, who added that he hoped the UCLA students would serve as role models for the younger students. "It's really critical that students have a long-lasting commitment to communities."
Speaker Perez said the day is about "celebrating and honoring our community and making sure they have the tools they need to do their work. It’s events like this that remind us that schools are one crucial thread that holds our community together."
Dozens of Utah Street students came out of their classrooms at recess to see a picture of their school mascot, a dolphin, being painted by Carol Block, the chancellor's wife, and six UCLA students in vivid blue, gold and white in the middle of their schoolyard. "It’s cool!" exclaimed one student. Paintbrush in hand, Shincy Lu, a freshman from China, said, “It’s really great to bring new things into children’s lives.”
The mural, which Utah Street students made sure was large enough to be seen on Google Maps, will instill a sense of pride at his school, said Utah Street School Principal Francisco Serrato. “This is an amazing day for my students, first, because they are experiencing service firsthand and, second, because they are seeing college students out here doing the work. These UCLA students are leaving something behind as a reminder of this day … and as a reminder that my students can become college students, too.”
At Nickerson Gardens later, the Blocks helped lay new sod at the public housing complex. To student volunteers, he acknowledged that the work was physically hard to do, “but you can tell the neighbors here appreciate it, and we appreciate it.”
Michael Starr, a UCLA senior, volunteered this fall to lead a group of new students in painting and installing bunk beds at Hope Gardens, a recovery center in Sylmar for people struggling with alcoholism. "It's a great message that UCLA is sending students about the importance of volunteering," he said.
When he was a freshman, Starr was required to participate in Volunteer Day, and the experience started him thinking about how one person can make a difference.
"Now volunteering is a big passion of mine," said Starr, who serves on the Dance Marathon Committee that raises thousands of dollars for a pediatric AIDS coalition. "I'm definitely excited to see how Volunteer Day has grown."
Starr is one of many UCLA students who are part of a robust volunteer movement on campus. More than half of UCLA's undergraduates currently participate in a wide range of ongoing community service projects, ranging from tutoring youngsters from low-performing schools to providing legal and medical assistance to the needy. On campus, the UCLA Volunteer Center is the central hub for civic engagement, linking students, staff, faculty and alumni to numerous projects across Los Angeles.
Sophomore Nicholas Jensen said he became excited about doing volunteer work after being part of Volunteer Day last year, when he was assigned to paint at an elementary school and ended up talking to a class about what life on campus was like.
"It was really a great opportunity for me, and I'll never forget it," said Jensen, who is serving as a volunteer leader for today's event. "Sure, getting out here in the morning may be a little rough, but once you start working, you forget all that."
At the Angelus Plaza Senior Center, UCLA students learned a Japanese folkdance along with women in their 80s who come from all over L.A. to participate in activities. One of the senior dancers remarked that dancing with the UCLA students gave her the motivation to perform it correctly, and "we have to make sure that we’re in shape."
Also learning the dance was Mary Purifoy, a UCLA staff member who has come out to work at every Volunteer Day. She’s an administrative assistant in the Division of Laboratory Animal Medicine. "It brightens the lives of these senior citizens. I can see it in their faces."