September 21, 2010
One generation plants the tree, another gets the shade.
The Chinese proverb was part of a new mural painted at Monroe High School in North Hills on Tuesday on the wall of a faded building by UCLA students who embodied the saying by volunteering to spruce up the campus.
The wall now not only depicts a silhouette of a tree shading two children as they read a book, but also reminds people to pay it forward.
“The students of Monroe will enjoy the fruits of these guys’ labor,” said Michael Howard, the director of a community beautification program who outlined the mural for volunteers to fill in. “It’s kind of fitting in a sense, because they’re putting their effort in, and Monroe students benefit from the mural.”
As part of UCLA’s second annual Volunteer Day, 5,000 students – mostly freshmen and transfers who will start school Thursday – branched out to 22 sites across the Southland to clean up homeless shelters, beaches, parks and schools. They also pitched in at senior centers, community gardens, hospitals and even the La Brea Tar Pits.
At Monroe, more than 400 students helped repaint buildings, basketball and handball courts, layer two murals over graffiti-covered walls and remake the landscaping.
The work had extra meaning for Ben Sangthongkum, a UCLA senior tasked with overseeing a group of freshmen as they painted. The sociology student from Sylmar graduated from Monroe in 2007 and returns to visit the campus several times a year.
“It was nice to give back to where I grew up,” Sangthongkum said. “It’s just a great opportunity for me to give back to the set of new students that are there … and hopefully spark some interest in wanting to be more civically engaged.”
The new Bruins taped off four-foot high stretches of walls around campus, then labored on hands and knees as they used rollers and brushes to apply coats of semi-gloss. The coating should help school janitors get shoeprints and other marks off the walls more easily.
On the walls of the handball courts, which taggers often mark up, students painted sports figures in hopes of discouraging more graffiti.
“It’s a bit of an eye-opener,” said Julia Wang, a freshman design major from the affluent Northern California suburb Walnut Creek. “Because I came from a really, really different high school, the kind that wouldn’t really need community service, and I guess I wasn’t exposed.
“It’s pretty cool giving back to the community and seeing other people serve.”
Seeing college students banding together to help the community will hopefully inspire Monroe students to strive to do the same and to achieve a higher education, said Monroe Principal Chris Rosas.
“It’s a great role model for our kids to teach civic pride and to teach giving back to your community,” Rosas said. “It’s just a great lesson for our kids, not to mention the physical benefit of cleaning up and painting and all that.”
Several signs made by students in Monroe’s leadership class welcomed the UCLA students to campus and thanked them for their work.
“That was really sweet,” said Angela Chan, a freshman from Pleasanton. “It feels really good to start our college careers with community service before even our classes start.”
Volunteer Day, supported by a grant from the Entertainment Industry Foundation, comes just a day after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced plans to coordinate volunteers for community service projects as part of the President Obama-inspired Cities of Service program.
Under the title We Serve L.A., the city is the first of 21 municipalities in the program to kick off the volunteer effort and will launch with an inaugural project addressing dropout rates with the Los Angeles Unified School District this weekend.
“Small acts of everyday heroes bring communities together and help individuals through difficult times,” Villaraigosa said Monday at a news conference. “If our young people, especially, do their part and answer the call to service, cities across the country will support their efforts.”