February 13, 2012
Joseph Chang sat in a small computer lab at the Angelus Plaza Senior Activity Center in downtown Los Angeles, typing out a letter written on paper towels.
Chang, a first-year mathematics/applied science student, was formatting a letter for a gray-haired woman who called herself Tia Julie. The letter was to be sent to Julie’s nephew in Guatemala.
Chang was one of 33 UCLA students, staff and friends who volunteered at the Bunker Hill neighborhood’s senior center on Saturday to provide computer help in the center’s computer lab and distribute valentines. The volunteers were part of the monthly UCLA Volunteer Center’s “One Bus, One Cause” service project, which entails sending a bus full of volunteers to locations in need in the Los Angeles community.
The Angelus Plaza, which has more than 1,300 residents and is the largest affordable retirement housing foundation in the nation, is the project’s second volunteering destination.
Volunteers proficient in Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Spanish helped residents and visiting senior community members with technological problems. The center’s residents primarily speak these languages.
Chew Tow Seto, a resident of Angelus Plaza, brought his new laptop to the volunteer help session. His 60-day trial of Microsoft Office had just expired and he needed help activating the program.
Seto grinned as he explained that he took a computer class 15 years ago but had forgotten much of what he had learned and needed help.
Despite being very interested in using computers, Seto said he finds it hard to remember what he learns about technology. He added that he wants to improve his computer skills because his friends are using the Internet and he does not want to be left behind.
The center also offers instructor-led computer classes to residents and outside elderly community members three times weekly.
“There’s a myth out there that seniors are cyber-phobic,” said Jeffrey Winston, community relations coordinator at the Angelus Plaza. “But actually, many of our residents here are quite eager to learn.”
Jimmy Ngo, project assistant in the David Geffen School of Medicine’s Division of Internal Medicine, was paired up with Seto. Ngo was not familiar with the Chinese characters on Seto’s computer, but was able to solve his problem nonetheless.
Ngo said that when volunteering and when working with computers, he always expects the unexpected.
Other seniors at the event sought help downloading pictures, streaming movies and shopping online. One member wanted help simply to learn how to use Microsoft Paint to draw apples.
Draco Chu, an international student initiatives coordinator at the Office of Residential Life who volunteered at the event, said he had to stop and think how he does things on the computer that he usually takes for granted, such as cutting and pasting text in order to explain it to the residents.
Other volunteers at the event distributed more than 300 valentines to the residents of Angelus Plaza. More than 2,000 valentines were brought in total, to be passed out throughout the week. Members of several sororities at UCLA made the valentines to give to the residents prior to the event.
Each card contained an original message, and many were signed by their designers.
Marita Meyer, a first-year student in physiological sciences who helped distribute the valentines, made several of the cards herself with fellow sorority members in Alpha Phi. She said she and her sorority sisters wanted to help the community.
“We gave the valentines to everyone we saw,” said Mary Purifoy, an administrative assistant in UCLA’s Division of Laboratory Animal Medicine who helped distribute the valentines at the event. They also pasted the cards to residents’ doors.
UCLA Volunteer Center fellow David Tracy, who coordinated the Angelus Plaza trip with UCLA Volunteer Center fellow Halsey DiSario, said that he hopes the event will spark volunteers’ interest in other projects the center organizes.
Tracy said that in planning the event, his goal was just to get students out in the community engaging in service.
“With so many uncertainties, we just get as many people as we can, do as much as we can, then call it a day,” said Tracy, a fourth-year business economics and architecture student.
At the end of the event, UCLA volunteers and Angelus Plaza residents shared coffee and cookies and took part in a Valentine’s Day-themed dance.
Photo caption: Draco Chu, right, an international student initiatives coordinator at the Office of Residential Life sits with a resident of the Angelus Resident Plaza senior activity center in downtown Los Angeles.