On Tuesday, 6,500 new UCLA students got a taste of Bruin life before classes even started when they spent the morning volunteering at more than 50 locations across greater Los Angeles.

The fifth annual UCLA Volunteer Day started when the freshmen and new transfers joined their dormmates for breakfast and a walk to one of more than 120 familiar yellow school buses, which ferried them to places like schools, public parks, senior centers, community centers and homeless service providers.

The plaza outside Covel Commons was awash in hundreds of students wearing their powder blue Volunteer Day T-shirts and fueling up on bagels, milk and fruit.

"I really enjoy Volunteer Day," said Sunny Singh, a student volunteer leader and Sproul Cove resident assistant, as he and some of his residents sat on the ground eating. Two years ago the junior history and economics major re-painted and beautified a garden at an elementary school and last year he was part of a team that built furniture and cleaned and re-organized space at a transitional shelter for abused women and children. "It’s pretty amazing that in an afternoon hundreds of volunteers did what would have been about six months of work for the fulltime staff there," the 19-year-old Singh said.
"I think it’s a really good idea to do this," said Keytiana Hempstead, one of Singh’s residents, a recent transfer from San Bernardino Valley College. "If people start off their years with this they’ll do this throughout their time here."

The only thing Hempstead, who turned 21 on Monday, had to "complain" about was the 7:40 a.m. wake-up call. But, she said, the free breakfast and good cause helped rouse her. Singh noted that he had to knock on only a few doors to wake up his 62 residents and didn’t need to use his whistle, which he jokingly threatened his residents with Monday night when he passed out their Volunteer Day T-shirts.

For a grand total of 7,400 volunteers, another 900 UCLA employees, upperclassmen, alumni and parents shepherded the students to their volunteer destinations. Since 2009, Volunteer Day has introduced new Bruins to the importance UCLA places on serving the community.

Cathy Wang, who transferred from De Anza College in the Bay Area, said she was looking forward to what Volunteer Day could teach her. "You get to know the community. And I get to meet lots of people. It’s a really good way to start," she said before heading down from The Hill to the intramural field to join the packs of powder blue-clad Bruins on the bright green grass.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block joined other Los Angeles leaders and 200 UCLA volunteers in Koreatown at Leo Politi Elementary, the LAUSD school with the highest percentage of low-income families. Block and State Assembly Speaker John Perez spoke to the school's children and volunteers gave every student a tote bag containing school and dental supplies donated by the non-profit K to College. "It's phenomenal seeing the interaction with our students," Block said. "We are a public university and we have a public mission to serve the community."
Gene Block and his wife Carol also visited the Veterans Affairs Medical Center near UCLA, where they joined 100 student volunteers who weeded and planted while conversing with vets, performed in a talent show, and hosted a Sadie Hawkins Dance and game day with residents at the Veterans Home of West Los Angeles. Block and other volunteers also visited with  veterans in the dining hall and toured the home.

The 200 volunteers at Leo Politi included Joe and Josie Bruin and the Spirit Squad, which led a student assembly in the UCLA 8-clap cheer. The volunteers, including Block, tilled earth for a new garden for the school, organized libraries and played at recess with their new friends at Leo Politi. Team leader Charlene Fernandez volunteered at the school last year too and said "just seeing the kids smile makes me want to come back. College is a way to discover myself. We're sharing this with the students here."

Principal Brad Rumble, a UCLA alumnus whose parents met while students in Westwood, was delighted to have the Bruins back. "Last year there was such a connection," he said. "It's very important to have college students telling our students that there's a university not far from here where they can get a great education. The school is awash with gratitude."

At the Boys and Girls Club of the West Valley in Canoga Park, volunteers including freshman Liu Cai, from Beijing, China, and Hannah Buckner of Victorville, CA, helped to paint the walls of the basketball court. "Having UCLA students paint these walls is a great example for the kids in our 'College Bound' program," said Ruben Rodriguez, program director at the club. "Every time they see these clean walls, we can remind them that college students did this. It helps us reinforce the idea of  having a plan for when high school is finished to continue their education, whatever that might be."

During their hours at Monroe High School, UCLA volunteers spoke to 11th grade classes about college. "The message I try to communicate to these students is that they need to stay motivated about going to college and not get discouraged by cost or other things," UCLA sophomore Jose Garcia of Los Angeles said. "I came from South Los Angeles, so I know what some of them are facing. If I can do it, I want to inspire them to achieve the same goals."
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Updated at 5:30 p.m.