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Imagine waking up at 6am on a Saturday morning. Now travel three to four hours to get to your work ...

Mongelli Award, Spring ‘13 – Central Valley Project

May 30th, 2013

Imagine waking up at 6am on a Saturday morning. Now travel three to four hours to get to your work site. Volunteer. And later, get back on the freeway for another three to four hours to return home. This is what the dedicated members of the Central Valley Project (CVP) do on a bi-weekly basis while also balancing their academic studies and other commitments. These students volunteer at the Central Valley sites of Orange Cove Library and Lindsay High School, but what they do during the few hours is change lives.

CVP’s mission is comprised of three components:

  • Motivate Central Valley students to pursue a higher education
  • Mentor youth to build positive self-identities
  • Empower young student leaders in our communities

The Central Valley Project was founded in February 2012 by fourth year sociology major Maria Mendoza, second year sociology major Cynthia Montano, and second year sociology major Luis Manuel Sanchez. They noticed that UCLA had many mentoring service organizations, but not one served the Central Valley.

The Central Valley is primarily an isolated rural/farming community; the resources available to this area are limited. Thus, there is low academic achievement and less opportunity to pursue a college education. Coming from the area themselves, Mendoza, Montano, and Sanchez were highly motivated to start a mentorship organization that would give back to the youth of their community and provide a space for UCLA students to learn about and serve the Central Valley.

A typical day at one of their sites consists of an ice breaker, an interactive themed workshop, and a “power hour” where students are free to work on their academics or hang out with their UCLA student mentors. Site leaders Jasmine Munoz and Dulce Diaz work together to create a curriculum geared toward the interests, personalities, and feedback of their students. For example, one recent workshop focused on colleges’ A-G admissions requirements.

Founder and head project director Maria Mendoza noticed a transformation in the students from the first site in the fall quarter to the last site in spring quarter. Mendoza said: “Students come in very quiet and reserved. By the end of the year, they voice their opinions and bring in their own ideas to our workshops.”

Cynthia Montano, co-founder and co-project director, said she is happy to see students improve their confidence and apply what they learned in the workshops into their education and daily lives.

CVP has grown tremendously in the past year. Mendoza said that they have established relationships with their students and the community partners. Lindsay High School gives students academic credit for attending CVP’s workshops, and the Mayor has even given his full support for the organization. Mendoza finds their efforts to be justified since many of the CVP students have been contacting her and other UCLA student mentors about their scholarship awards and acceptances into their top choice universities. In fact, two students from CVP’s sites have been accepted to UCLA for the upcoming school year! Montano said a student recognized CVP for being a vital part of their acceptance.

For the future, CVP hopes to expand their sites to reach more students. They plan to build satellite sites so that they can centralize their service for multiple locations in the Central Valley. CVP also would like to co-program with other UCLA student organizations and further solidify the scholarships and resources they can give to high school students.

For their dedication to the community, their encouragement to UCLA students to volunteer, and the difference they make to the lives they help, the UCLA Volunteer Center Fellows have selected the Central Valley Project (CVP) as the recipient of the Spring 2013 Mongelli Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement.

For more information about how to get involved in the Central Valley Project, visit their website at or Facebook page at Membership is open to all UCLA students.

About the Author

Written by the UCLA Volunteer Center Fellows

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