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Since 1962, Amigos de UCLA has worked with low-income families to help better the lives of those who...

Mongelli Award, Fall ‘16 – Amigos de UCLA

December 8th, 2016

Since 1962, Amigos de UCLA has worked with low-income families to help better the lives of those who may be less fortunate.  Amigos approaches their volunteer opportunities with commitment to the community and a strong focus on social justice.

Over the years, the need to address educational inequity in Los Angeles drew the organization to Arlington Heights, an under-resourced area in Central Los Angeles. Amigos works with community members there to assess and support the needs of students to benefit their educational achievement.

Three times a week, Amigos de UCLA travels to Carson Gore Academy of Environmental Studies and Pio Pico Middle School to provide individual tutoring, topic-driven lessons, and hands-on learning experiences. Tutors meet with the same students every week to develop a strong and trustworthy relationship.

The organization selects a new lesson theme each quarter to frame weekly activities and educational field trips. This quarter’s theme, “How things work,” engaged the students’ curiosity about how their minds and bodies function. Exploring educational topics outside of school gives young students a space to make learning fun.

One of the group’s goals is to have a significant presence in the community and be available for parents. To support this goal, Amigos developed Family Day, a quarterly event in which tutors bring students and their families to UCLA’s campus to promote higher education aspirations.

“Family Day shows the students and their families a side of college that goes beyond a typical campus tour,” said Co-Executive Director Dana Christensen. “Being able to show them aspects of a student’s daily life can really shape their understanding of college and get them motivated to attend universities like UCLA.”

Last spring, Dana was able to bring the students and their families into a UCLA classroom and show them a project she was working on with a turtle shell.  A highlight of the day for Dana was when, at the end of Family Day, one of the kids said, “I want to go to UCLA and study turtles!”

The mentorship Amigos provides helps motivate the students to prioritize education at a young age. In the next few years, Amigos hopes to create a high school site in Arlington Heights to impact all levels of K-12 education.

Amigos influences the tutors as much as it impacts the young students. Dana’s experiences with Amigos inspired her to pursue a career in education. Many of the tutors in Amigos have a strong passion for civic engagement and education, which is reflected in the goals and values of the organization.

The UCLA Volunteer Center Fellows are honored to award Amigos de UCLA the Fall 2016 Mongelli Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement for their demonstrated community impact. To learn more about Amigos de UCLA, check them out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat (@amigosdeucla), their website, or email (


About the author

Maya Ram is a third-year World Arts and Cultures major and Public Health minor. Maya is involved with the Community Service Commission through Alternative Breaks, which has expanded her perspective on the social determinants of health and healthcare access in under-resourced communities. She is passionate about reproductive justice and sexual health and is involved with the UCLA Sex Squad, which engages high school students in art-making and storytelling surrounding the topic of sexual health. Maya also serves as a GRIT Peer Coach through the Bruin Resource Center, which has fostered her passion for promoting wellbeing within the UCLA community.

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