When thousands of incoming freshmen and transfer students blanket Los Angeles County for UCLA’s annual Volunteer Day this Saturday, organizers strive to create a meaningful day everyone will remember.
“We want to leave a lasting impression,” said Walen Ngo, program manager at UCLA Extension’s business, management and legal programs department. Ngo will lead a group of those young volunteers to serve at the Veterans Home of West Los Angeles, an experience he hopes and believes they will cherish well beyond Saturday.
“It’s really worthwhile to open the eyes of the volunteers to this home and these people who have given so much to our country,” Ngo said. “The little we can do on Volunteer Day will hopefully inspire them to continue to give back.”
Now in its seventh year, Volunteer Day sends students to 48 community service sites across Los Angeles County and has become one of every Bruins’ first UCLA memories. Volunteer Day began in 2009 when Chancellor Gene Block added service as a new True Bruin Value, also creating the UCLA Volunteer Center in the process.
"Service is one of the core missions of UCLA, and Volunteer Day exemplifies that, hopefully instilling in every new student a connection to the city beyond our campus,” Block said. “We’ve seen that for many students, Volunteer Day inspires a lifelong dedication to shaping and bettering their communities, wherever they go after graduation."
This year’s Volunteer Day includes more than 6,500 incoming freshman and transfer students, overseen by more than 600 volunteers comprising UCLA staff, faculty, alumni, parents, upperclassmen and Bruin community members. Volunteers will go to sites in each of Los Angeles’ 15 City Council districts to work on projects at schools, parks, shelters, senior centers, veterans sites and neighborhood centers. Projects include mural painting and beautification at schools and shelters; distribution of school supplies and dental hygiene kits; restoration of nature trails; landscaping; technology tutoring with seniors; and interactive activities with school children.
“This is the first major service event they’ll participate in as UCLA students, and they’ll lend a hand at sites in every corner of Los Angeles,” said Shannon Hickman, director of the Volunteer Center. “We recognize the importance of engaging with residents of the city and finding common ground with those around us. That’s why the academic year begins with this call to action, to emphasize that volunteerism is part of being a Bruin.”
Sophomore David Brik recalled becoming involved last year as a student newly arrived from Australia.
“I met people I still speak to,” Brik said. “It was kind of like an army of volunteers, all coming from the same place and area, and it is something I really wanted to experience — something at such a big scale.”
Last year Brik volunteered at an elementary school in an underprivileged part of Los Angeles where he helped paint murals and talked to kids about the college experience.
“The people who were with me had never really seen that,” said Brik, who was so inspired by the experience that he joined the Volunteer Center as a student events assistant. “It was very eye-opening to see that the community always needs help and you are always welcome to help.”
In 2014, UCLA Volunteer Day provided more than 38,000 hours of community service. This year, students can also attend the new ServeFest after Volunteer Day to learn about and join service organizations from across campus. Also for the first time, alumni chapters across the country will host their own local volunteer projects at the same time that new Bruins embark on their first UCLA service project.
At the schools and afterschool sites Bruins will visit this year, organizers stressed the importance of student-to-child interactions.
“A great thing I love about Volunteer Day is the variety — the kids will get art, music, maybe science and medical education,” said Naomi McSwain, executive director of the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center. “This is expertise we can’t pay for right now, and it will make a difference. … The kids will be here side-by-side with students from UCLA. A lot of them might not know anyone from there. A lot of our kids want to go there. And this helps actualize that.”
Brenda Galvez, UCLA student affairs officer for music, ethnomusicology and music industry, will lead a group of Herb Alpert School of Music faculty and staff to the Wooten youth center.
“I’m really big on professional development and building relationships with colleagues,” she said. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to bring together faculty and staff and do something fun outside of work, but there is really this sense of community coming from both ends.”
At the Jenesse Center, newly minted graduate Cynthia Wong will lead a group to help sort and organize donated clothing at the women’s shelter, while also bringing in plants and flowers for a beautification project. Wong thinks fondly of her original Volunteer Day, and has been happy to keep coming back.
“As a student, regardless of whether you were involved before UCLA or not, I think I loved that aspect of it the most, the fact that as a collective of first years we could do something positive in the community together,” she said.
Second Street Elementary School Principal Cristina Munoz couldn’t agree more. It is her second year at a school she said is in need of help from everywhere and anywhere.
“I am so over-the-moon excited,” she said. “We are really trying to create this college-readiness environment at our school. … [Volunteer Day] will let them see that going to college isn’t just going to class but also giving back to the community.”
Volunteers will paint multiple murals at Second Street Elementary and also give out school supplies and dental hygiene kits, and work on beautification projects. But that is only part of the picture.
“For my community it is huge. This school was kind of abandoned and left off to the side. This shows we are part of a great community,” Munoz said. “They don’t have too many role models and family members in college, so to see it is possible — that is going to be huge for my kids.
Assemblyman Miguel Santiago who will visit Second Street Elementary, noted that Volunteer Day is one of the many reasons he is proud to be a Bruin alumnus.
“I want to express my gratitude to the students of UCLA, for their service throughout the City of Los Angeles and for their commitment to community involvement and spirit of volunteerism,” he said. “Today’s students are the workforce of tomorrow, and we need to ensure that every student has the diligence and willingness to serve their community and prepare not only themselves, but those whom they mentor, to become future leaders.”