Walen Ngo is currently the Program Manager for the Business and Management Department of UCLA Extension and loves to spend his time volunteering and giving back to the community. In his free time, Walen serves as the Vice President of Programs for UCLA’s Staff Assembly and volunteers through both the National Community Tax Coalition and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). During the summer of 2015, Walen volunteered for multiple days of the Special Olympics World Games, joining over 800 UCLA staff members in welcoming the world to campus. He also recently served as a Project Leader for the Veteran’s Home of California- West Los Angeles (Cal-Vet) site on UCLA’s 7th annual Volunteer Day.
As a Volunteer Day Project Leader, not only was Walen diligent about his required tasks from visiting the site to collecting supplies, but he also went above and beyond by recruiting his co-workers as his Task Captains. In total, 12 staff members from UCLA Extension volunteered to be Task Captains, as well as several staff members from UCLA Government and Community Relations. About the experience, Walen commented, “UCLA Extension is really big with a lot of different departments, so this volunteer opportunity was a great way to get to know people I would not have otherwise met. Just in the office at work, the various departments do not get a chance to see each other regularly or get to know each other, so this was definitely a unique experience.”
Walen also noted how supported he felt throughout the entire process. He was able to utilize his supervision and management skills by asking his Task Captains for help throughout the preparation process and day-of. “A lot of people stepped up and others went with me for the site visit, so I never felt like all of the responsibility was entirely on me.” This support was crucial as Cal-Vet was a large site that received two buses of volunteers. In addition, Mrs. Carol Block volunteered at the site. She worked alongside the student volunteers who sanded benches and tables and painted canvasses. One of Walen’s highlights from the day was when Mrs. Block led an 8-clap for all of the volunteers and service recipients. Another highlight of the day, as described by one of Walen’s Task Captains, Rachel Grazer, was “watching all of the incoming UCLA freshmen step off the bus on a Saturday morning in support of community service. That’s what being a true Bruin is all about. The students did a fantastic job engaging with veterans in a multitude of ways and showed such character and compassion. I was really blown away!”
Overall, the process of planning for and leading a Volunteer Day site was highly fulfilling for Walen. The residents of Cal-Vet truly appreciated the time Walen and his team dedicated to the project. For volunteers, the opportunity to interact with and hear the stories of veterans can give one a new perspective on service and giving back. The volunteers enjoyed seeing the joy on the residents’ faces; one resident even stated that Volunteer Day “made his week.”
As a result of the Cal-Vet experience, Walen and his colleagues plan to make participating in Volunteer Day a tradition. In fact, Rachel Grazer plans to take on the role as Project Leader next year! About her experience, Rachel said “Volunteering with UCLA Extension co-workers during Volunteer Day 2015 opened up so many doors for me both professionally and personally. I met and interacted with co-workers from a variety of different departments. We all got to bond while supporting a meaningful project that had nothing to do with our day to day routines, which was very refreshing! I’ve since created friendships with some of these co-workers and we’ve even been part of other volunteer initiatives at UCLA Extension.” Not only has she decided to take on the role as Project Leader, but Rachel has also become further involved in service as a committee member for UCLA Staff Assembly’s Committee on Disability, and she says she has “Volunteer Day to thank!”
Walen and Rachel’s story is just one example of how campus groups can rally together to create a successful Volunteer Day site. Volunteer Day 2016 will be held on Monday, September 19, 2016. If your department or student group is interested in participating together and leading a site, check back in April, when the Center will be posting the leadership application. In addition to Volunteer Day, the Center offers many other ways for UCLA employees to give back.