The return to campus at UCLA meant a lot more than students moving into residence halls and starting their classes recently. It also meant the resumption of a much more robust time-honored tradition of service with the UCLA’s 13th annual Volunteer Day.  

On Saturday, Sept. 25, approximately 1,500 students, alumni and community members in the greater Los Angeles area and around the world participated. Volunteer Day, which began under UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, is a large-scale community service event meant to inspire new students and continue the UCLA tradition of service.

This year the day involved projects at 39 sites throughout the Los Angeles region, and a half dozen more organized by alumni groups in cities such as San Diego, Sacramento, Austin, Texas, and even Hong Kong.

UCLA Volunteer Day students gathered on the Hill
Reed Hutchinson/UCLA
Fours up for Volunteer Day. Students gather outside the residence halls before they fan out to participate in their service projects.  

Activities ranged from gardening, cleanup and beautification projects, school lesson material preparation, outreach services for the unhoused, and food and blood drives. The chancellor and dozens of students walked from campus to the neighborhood just west of campus to help cleanup the streets.

On UCLA’s campus in Westwood, students gathered at the residence halls to listen to a presentation on sustainability by members of the campus sustainability organization, Greening the Greeks. Charlie Jean Johnson, the group’s vice president of external affairs, spoke with the crowd to define terms like conservation, preservation and sustainability. Johnson also told everyone that the land they were standing on was once taken care of by the Tongva, the indigenous people who have been living here since long before Los Angeles was a city.

“We leave an impact on everything,” Johnson said. “So make it a good one.”

After the presentation, the approximately 300 students, wearing gloves and carrying trash bags, walked through the student neighborhoods picking up trash and helping beautify the area.

Also in Westwood, at a church on Hilgard Avenue just east of campus, 60 students gathered to prepare menstrual hygiene kits for women in countries throughout the developing world where these items are not available or difficult, and sometimes dangerous, to acquire. The UCLA club Days for Girls International is supported by the Los Angeles chapter of the organization, and focuses on educating women about their bodies, reducing the stigma of menstruation, and providing these sustainable products so females do not miss school or experience ridicule when menstruating, which unfortunately are common occurrences.

Mia Ford, a third-year math and economics major who just got back to Westwood after a year and a half of living at home, spent her time cutting cloth that was then sewn and made into the items being prepared for distribution to women in India, the Dominican Republic, and many countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

“This was a great way to meet people and be exposed to an activity I might want to continue throughout the year,” Ford said.

UCLA Volunteer Day 2021 - Mia Ford at Days for Girls
Elizabeth Kivowitz/UCLA
Mia Ford, a third-year math and economics major at UCLA, cutting cloth that was then sewn and made into the items being prepared for distribution to women in India, the Dominican Republic, and many countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

Alumni groups also organized projects for former students as well as community members. In Pasadena, close to 30 people organized by the Rose Bowl Bruins alumni network worked to beautify the Arroyo Seco and learned about the local watershed. They also helped remove invasive species from the area to help restore natural habitat, part of an ongoing project funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“I personally enjoy making new UCLA memories and sharing experiences with fellow Bruins,” said Charlotte Tang, who is a board member for the Rose Bowl Bruins and who has two UCLA degrees. “When I volunteer, I get to make new connections, while helping make a difference in our local community.”

On Lamma Island, the third-largest island of Hong Kong, 35 UCLA alumni and their family members and friends collected trash along hiking trails and beaches.

Diana Chow, president of the UCLA Alumni Hong Kong network, was excited to take part in the Hong Kong network’s first in-person event since the pandemic.

“I feel connected to all the other Bruins doing community service globally, on the same day, together, and I feel connected to my community by making it a better place with love through service,” Chow said.

Many students participated in gardening and other beautification projects at local schools throughout the area including Cowan, Braddock, Paseo del Rey and Walgrove elementary schools, Mark Twain Middle School, and Walt Whitman High School. Others prepared materials for distribution and participated in other activities at organizations that support students and families with enrichment activities, supplies and afterschool care including the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank, PUENTE Learning Center in Boyle Heights and PS Science in Inglewood.

At Fremont Community Garden, run by the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust in South Los Angeles, a few students and a retiree joined community members to maintain the garden by pruning trees, picking up dead fruit and trash, turning the mulch in the compost bins and watering vegetable plots.

Amira Patrawala at the Fremont Community Garden
Elizabeth Kivowitz/UCLA
UCLA student Amira Patrawala volunteering at the Fremont Community Garden.

Amira Patrawala, a fourth-year human biology and society major and service education director for the UCLA Community Service Commission, was excited to be at a site that brings together members of the local community who are interested in gardening and sustainable food sources. She is enthusiastic about starting her leadership role in service this year after a long hiatus due to the restraints of the pandemic.

“It’s about ethical service,” Patrawala said. “We take a humble approach that values reciprocity and respect, and the understanding that we don’t know all the answers.”