UCLA volunteers arrived early at Horace Mann UCLA Community School in South Los Angeles on Oct. 7, ready for a hot day carrying hundreds of pounds of mulch, painting basketball courts and backboards with college logos, building benches and beautifying the school.

The nearly 200 university volunteers, mostly freshmen and new transfers to UCLA, were among thousands of university volunteers at 31 sites — schools, veterans services sites, parks, food banks, and senior and neighborhood centers. Organized by UCLA’s Volunteer Center, the volunteers were bused across Los Angeles on Saturday as part of the university’s ninth annual Volunteer Day.

From Griffith Park to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the event provides tens of thousands of hours of service every year, valued at well over half a million dollars benefiting the service sites. Since beginning in 2009, Volunteer Day has become a cornerstone of the UCLA student experience, introducing new Bruins to their new city at the same time that it reminds them that being a Bruin means serving their community.

For many students, it is a call to action that encourages them to join Volunteer Center projects throughout the year. The center and annual day of service developed as a result of UCLA Chancellor Gene Block’s pledge to make the campus a leader in volunteerism. Block spoke at Mann UCLA on Saturday alongside California Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Los Angeles Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson. What began as the nation’s largest community participation event for new students has become a model for similar projects nationwide.

“This is the greatest Volunteer Day in the nation for students going out into the community,” Block said. “I hope many of you will come back and continue to volunteer. … This is just the beginning.”

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, students did beautification projects and spent time with veterans at the Veterans Home of West Los Angeles and the neighboring Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. They did landscaping and habitat restoration at places like Griffith Park and the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. They volunteered at more than a dozen schools and lent a hand at homeless shelters and senior centers.

At Mann UCLA, as at several other sites, the university volunteers didn’t work alone: they worked alongside community members, including the school’s students, teachers, and parents who helped sweep, hammer and shovel. When school buses arrived at Mann UCLA to pick up the UCLA students, they were covered in sweat, mud and paint, but also smiles that showed they were proud of their work.