For Bruins, answering the call to serve others took on a different meaning this weekend as hundreds of people participated in UCLA’s 12th annual Volunteer Day, pivoting from the event’s traditionally massive in-person projects to fit the reality of the pandemic.

But with virtual sessions came some benefits. For the first time, Bruins in different states could participate in the same projects together, and easily participate in multiple sessions. Educational panels on pressing societal issues, and information sessions on how to get involved with some of UCLA’s key nonprofit partners served a different kind of need than beautifying schools and sorting food-bank donations. Only blood donations and a food-and-toiletries “basic needs” drive took place in person, masked and with participants practicing safe distancing. Bruins filled all 50 time slots for blood donations.

“Things are a little different this year,” Chancellor Gene Block acknowledged in a video address before each of the sessions. “We aren’t piling onto buses and fanning out across the city, but I’m so glad we’re still coming together in the spirit of public service.”

UCLA’s Volunteer Center, Community Service Commission, and student affairs office were among the organizations that reimagined Volunteer Day for the COVID-19 era. The event is part of the traditional student experience, designed to be a gateway to volunteerism year-round.

“Service to the community is part of being a Bruin,” said Josh O’Connor, the Volunteer Center’s associate director of leadership and involvement. “Volunteer Day is a cornerstone of the UCLA experience, and a pandemic can change volunteerism but not stop it.”

The day included eight different ways to get involved. For the first time, the day also included panels on issues like effective protesting and how COVID effects minority communities.

Volunteer Day Zoom workshop
Reed Hutchinson/UCLA
Volunteer Day Zoom workshop

“This year’s six education sessions, on topics like voter suppression and Black Lives Matter, remind us that part of serving the community means understanding societal issues that affect us all,” Jeffrey Hwang, program coordinator, UCLA Volunteer Center.

Mimicking the traditional Volunteer Day experience of working with local schools and nonprofits were 16 informational sessions about how to get involved with some of UCLA’s key nonprofit partners, such as food banks, homeless shelters and programs for low-income children. Community members also shared their own knowledge by making how-to videos geared toward local K–12 students that will be shared later this week.

Alumna Rocie Carrillo, who works in the UCLA Library, joined several projects, first driving to campus to donate to the basic needs drive before returning home to learn more about Black Lives Matter and protesting during a pandemic. She began participating in every Volunteer Day and all of the year-round One Bus, One Cause projects after she realized that community service was the balm that helped her keep going after her mother’s death in 2014.

“I know volunteering helps other people, but at the same time, it helped heal me, as well,” Carrillo said. “I would have been really sad if Volunteer Day had been canceled this year. It’s an activity I look forward to every year because it has such a range of projects to pick from. Even during a pandemic, there are always ways to give back, creatively and safely.”

The student-run Community Service Commission partnered with the Volunteer Center this year to rework the annual event, led by third-year student Christopher Mauerman, director of the commission’s internal program’s committee. Volunteer Day was one of the first campus activities he did as a new student, Mauerman recalled, and he enjoyed the chance to help shape the virtual sessions.

“We have lots of nonprofit health organizations and social justice organizations that we’re partnering with, along with groups related to food insecurity,” Mauerman said. “We really wanted this year’s Volunteer Day to reflect what’s been going on in our country and the world.”

Service doesn’t stop with Volunteer Day. Efforts to help others continue, whether in the local community or as far-flung as Beirut. Recordings from the educational panels and information sessions can be found later this week on the Volunteer Center’s YouTube page. Additional opportunities are available year-round through the Volunteer Center and the Community Service Commission.