September 16, 2009
The very first lesson thousands of new UCLA students will learn at the start of their college careers next week will have nothing to do with academics.
For one memorable day during True Blue Welcome Week 2009, these freshmen and transfer students will bypass the classroom for the community and make university history by participating in the largest one-day volunteer effort ever organized here.
The numbers for Volunteer Day, Sept. 22, are mind-bending: Some 5,000 students will be escorted by 400 Office of Residential Life (ORL) student leaders onto 100 buses, loaded with 5,500 boxed breakfasts, to get to 26 different worksites at eight locations all across Los Angeles. Once there, the students will work under the direction of 300 volunteer task captains — a cadre of staff, faculty, students, alumni, donors and friends. Wearing 5,700 new Volunteer Day T-shirts, the masses of campus volunteers will create an undulating sea of blue and gold as they slather on 555 gallons of paint with 5,000 paint brushes and rollers and wield 346 rakes, 200 shovels, 116 shears and 131 hand trowels — all for the public good.
Restoring public trails and painting murals on a school’s blank wall will become “teachable moments” for all those participating in the event at every level to learn “the true essence of what being a Bruin is,” said Antoinette Mongelli, the executive director of the Volunteer Center, the “engine” launching this massive undertaking after months of intense planning. The center, which launches Monday, Sept. 21, will be the online portal supporting the campus community’s participation in the volunteer movement. It will connect Bruins to thousands of volunteer opportunities and open up a way to share ideas and network around the theme of volunteerism.
“From the very start, everyone will realize that there’s more to being a UCLA student than just going to class and getting good grades at a world-class institution,” Mongelli said. “It’s about becoming part of UCLA’s tradition of service and making a commitment to volunteerism.”
Volunteer Day also helps fulfill an inaugural pledge made by Chancellor Gene Block when he took leadership of UCLA in 2007 to build upon UCLA’s commitment to public service and make the campus a national leader in volunteerism.
“Civil engagement and community involvement are core values of our institution,” Block said in announcing the creation of the UCLA Volunteer Center. “At a time when volunteer participation is viewed increasingly as a national priority, it is critical for UCLA to be a catalyst for social change and to serve as a leader, inspiring other institutions as well.”
Block added that the vision is “nothing less than creating a ‘community of heroes’– enlightened volunteers who make a lifelong commitment to civic engagement.”
On Volunteer Day, the chancellor will share painting chores with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and 500 UCLA students at Gompers Middle School in South Los Angeles.
Among UCLA’s partners in the event are L.A. Works, a nonprofit volunteer action center that has been matching up volunteers with work assignments since 1991, and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, Hollywood’s leading charitable organization, which has generously supported Volunteer Day with a $250,000 grant.
The “backbone” for the event will be the 700 leadership volunteers, consisting of 300 staff, faculty, alumni and returning students who answered a call to action sent out in July to become task captains and 400 ORL team leaders who will guide students from their residence halls to the project sites.
On Volunteer Day, task captains and team leaders will link together and manage work crews of thousands that will be assigned to the eight locations: five LAUSD schools where they will paint, clean up and brighten areas; Point Dume State Beach in Malibu where volunteers will pick up trash; the Veterans Administration Hospital and Cemetery in West Los Angeles for gardening and other assistance; and Griffith Park for trail repair and general cleanup.
“When we were starting up, we really had no idea how many people would respond to our call for task captains,” said David Bloome, the “commander-in-chief” of Volunteer Day and campaign director of the Volunteer Center. “They responded in droves. UCLA staff have been especially fantastic. They have just led the way on this. It’s been very inspiring.”
Throughout the summer, task captains have been showing up at assigned times at Nora Sterry Elementary in West Los Angeles, said Bloome, to get instructions on their duties, tips from L.A. Works and a chance to try their hand at painting walls, one of the tasks to be run on Volunteer Day.
Paint roller in hand, Associate Professor Robert Gurval expertly applied beige paint to a pillar at the school as part of his training. His day job involves teaching classes at UCLA on ancient Rome and Latin literature, “about as far removed as you can get from painting an elementary school in West L.A.,” he said, smiling.
“I think it’s important for all of us at UCLA to realize that, as public institution, we’re part of a larger community,” Gurval said, explaining why he answered the call. “Often, Westwood seems like a very secluded and idyllic place. We have our offices, our beautifully landscaped campus and wonderful buildings — we don’t often go beyond that. This is one way for me to take what I do and help the community. Hopefully, this will be the start of an annual tradition.”
For many, the chance to be part of a historic event drew them to the event. “As soon as I saw the e-mail about Volunteer Day and how large it was going to be, I knew I really wanted to be part of it,” said Eugene Acosta, a Bruin Online manager, who also works as a volunteer on the campus canned food drive in December.
“I didn’t know the whole scope of it until right now. … 1,000 people at one location! That’s going to be monumental,” said Acosta, who admitted he “bleeds” UCLA. “This could definitely motivate me to want to do more. Sometimes people just need something to light that fire within them.”
Teresa Valenzuela, student services coordinator for undergraduates in the School of Nursing, felt a similar desire to get involved when she saw that e-mail. “It’s a big thing. It’s happening for the first time, and I totally understand where the chancellor is coming from in wanting everyone to get involved,” she said.
The role of task captain, in charge of 25-person work teams, also appealed to Valenzuela, a UCLA alumna. “I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to be a volunteer, let me be in charge. Let me run the thing. Let’s get it done.'”
Many staff members, who already do community service on a regular basis, saw this as an opportunity to extend their volunteer role.
Carolyn Lew-Karon, fund manager for physiological sciences, volunteers regularly with her son’s soccer program and Design for Sharing, a campus program that brings schoolchildren to Royce Hall for demonstration performances by some of the performing artists on UCLA Live’s calendar of cultural events.
“I really like being involved as a volunteer. And I thought this time, it would be fun to go out and help the community and meet some students at the same time,” said Lew-Karon. “I don’t get to meet very many UCLA students in my job. So this is a great way to do that.”
Getting ready to start her training as a task captain was Elisa Terry, who is director of the Fitwell program that motivates faculty, staff and students to make healthy lifestyle choices in the area of fitness, exercise and nutrition.
“This is a great thing to do,” Terry said. “It’s really a move in the right direction. I’m an alumna. I also work here. So I care a lot about UCLA and the students. And I think it’s better for us to spend our time helping others than, say, having a party.”
Welcome Week will still have a festive flavor with a concert and dance at Pauley Pavilion, an activities fair and a group welcome with a BBQ. But Volunteer Day will add something special, Terry said. “This definitely brings more balance to Welcome Week.”
Faculty and staff volunteers will also play an integral role Wednesday, Sept. 23, in the Global Citizenship Initiative, a project of ORL, the Art | Global Health Center and UCLA Volunteer Center. This time, volunteers will lead discussion groups made up of new students to talk about Tracy Kidder’s book, “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World.” The book traces Dr. Farmer’s fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
As part of the initiative, volunteers will share their personal experiences in local and global citizenship and add their insights on how students can include service in their daily lives. To learn more about becoming a Global Ambassador, see this website.
For more information on the Volunteer Center, see http://volunteer.ucla.edu.