September 20, 2011
Six thousand incoming freshmen and transfer students boarded buses in Westwood yesterday morning to fan out across Los Angeles for UCLA’s third annual Volunteer Day.
Accompanied by some 1,100 UCLA staff, faculty, alumni and other volunteer team leaders, the students cleaned, painted, made repairs and gardened at 26 sites throughout the city.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and his wife, Carol, joined volunteers at Breed Street Elementary School in Boyle Heights, where 300 students painted hallways and stairways and helped distribute $47,000 worth of school supplies.
“This is a very special day for us,” Block said in brief remarks given at a school assembly before pitching in to paint. Volunteer Day is part of the chancellor’s major initiative to expand UCLA’s already strong tradition of service.
“We’re doing this for ourselves, and we’re doing this for others,” he said. “This helps establish a value among our students — our new students — about the importance of volunteerism and giving back to community.”
Freshman Casey Woods, paintbrush in hand at the Boyle Heights school, said, “It’s very cool just looking down the hall and seeing all these blue shirts and seeing the smiles on the (elementary school) kids’ faces when they watch us with all the paint.
“It’s very rewarding,” she said. “It’s very cool to have this be our first activity as a freshman.”
Breed Street Elementary School principal Patricia Romero said she was thrilled to have the UCLA students on hand. Their presence “plants seeds for (Breed Street) students that college is a thing to do. I want my students to look at them and say, ‘Hey, I want to be like them. That’s a possibility.'”
UCLA volunteers at the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles scrubbed walls, floors and furniture. The rescue mission, established in 1891, is one of the largest of its kind in the U.S. and the oldest in the city. The mission’s CEO, Andy Bales, said that UCLA Volunteer Day helps inspire future volunteers.
“I know there are some folks here who are going to be lifelong volunteers … who learn to give themselves away by working here today,” he said.
Sean Sabina, a fourth-year biochemistry major, was celebrating his 21st birthday while volunteering at the mission.
“It’s pretty fun,” he said. “I haven’t really given anything back to people on my birthday before. I feel like it’s more fulfilling on my birthday to do something for somebody else.”
Freshman Mingju Yang, from Chinquong, China, said, “This is a very different experience from China,” where she was part of small groups of volunteers serving at a senior center. “UCLA is a really big university with people from everywhere, and I want to meet them all.”
About 150 volunteers mulched paths, spruced up picnic tables and more at the TreePeople park in Coldwater Canyon. The TreePeople organization educates people about ways to live more sustainably and make Los Angeles a more environmentally friendly place.
Second-year student Charlene Fernandez said she enjoyed Volunteer Day last year so much that she eagerly signed on again this year.
“You get this surge of accomplishment from volunteering that keeps you coming back,” she said. “People smile when you help. It just makes you feel warm all over.”
Fernandez also met fellow students at last year’s event who have since become good friends. In fact, she said, she and some of the people she met last year “realize today is our first-year friend anniversary. Volunteer Day is the day we met.”
Jim Hardie, TreePeople’s director of park operations, said, “Doing all this work without volunteers would be next to impossible. This would take us weeks without UCLA.”
By mulching the trails, tidying the plant nursery, cleaning the reflective lot and other projects, “they’re helping to care for a unique park for the 100,000 people a year who visit,” Hardie said.
Alumnus Travis Adam Wright was serving as a team leader at Tree People.
“Community service is what we do for the privilege of living on this planet,” he said.
Volunteer Day is a special project of the UCLA Volunteer Center, an online gateway for civic participation available to all Bruins, past and present.