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Danny Duel is a third-year Psychobiology major at UCLA and a UCLA Volunteer Center Fellow. Here is h...

Volunteer Experience: One Bus, One Cause – Mark Twain Middle School

February 20th, 2012

Danny Duel is a third-year Psychobiology major at UCLA and a UCLA Volunteer Center Fellow. Here is his experience as a co-programmer for the Center’s inaugural One Bus, One Cause project.

Planning One Bus, One Cause (1B1C) was a challenging yet rewarding experience. My colleague Rebecca Verlaque and I were lucky enough to have the opportunity to put on the first ever 1B1C event, so we had to make sure to set a good precedent. Our plan was to create a volunteer opportunity that would be unique for the participants by picking something that people, especially people our age, rarely get to do – gardening. Although I wasn’t sure if students would feel enthusiastic about this activity, sign-ups filled quickly, and any lingering anxieties I had were assuaged once I saw the students cheerfully and energetically unloading from the bus.

The students were welcomed with an opening speech by the master gardener of Mark Twain Middle School (MTMS), Marianne Brown, who explained to them the help we were providing for their school. MTMS, although on the west side of LA, is a magnet middle school. Underserved students are bused to MTMS from as far as an hour and a half away every day. The school has recently dealt with heavy budget cuts, and as a result, gardening got pushed to the back of the school’s priorities. The students at MTMS, however, love the garden- it’s a space for them to play and create their own garden projects. It is also connected to curriculum by the staff as they relate subjects ranging from literature, to history and healthy nutrition.

Throughout Marianne’s explanation, it was wonderful watching the volunteers’ faces light up and develop their first sense of emotional attachment to the project. After her story, the eager students split up into groups and got to work.

We had three main tasks for the day: building a grape arbor; digging out weeds, leveling the ground and overlaying it with mulch to create a space for a stage; and clearing and redigging plant beds. Although these tasks sound simple, I can tell you the labor was intensive; gardening is no joke. That huge burst of energy we had at the start of the day began to drain as we diligently dug with shovels and pickaxes to remove every last weed. However, the dedication was never lost as true leaders emerged to keep everyone motivated throughout the day. People started getting creative with methods of how to be most efficient, transforming the initial gardening process into something entirely different.

In the middle of the garden was a group of ten students who, within two hours, had built an entire grape arbor. We couldn’t believe how fast they leveled out the area, bent rebar, and constructed the huge arbor! Another group had to remove a huge bush that had a diameter of about 10 feet and they completely demolished it within 30 minutes. As I watched the entire project unfold it looked like everybody was working in fast forward (like the old school black and white movies), vigorously digging, building, and throwing out dirt. I think the funniest part was watching the MTMS staff’s eyes in bewilderment at how quickly each Bruin was working. In two hours, the garden looked completely transformed.

Finally, we had a pizza break and Marianne gave us more information on how they put on food tasting days for the students with food grown in their garden. She went on to explain how their student population is very diverse and they wanted to reflect that in the garden by creating themed plant beds that would each represent a culture (Spanish, Japanese, etc).

After lunch, we all got back to work again and, with the help of the MTMS parents and teachers, quickly finished up our gardening tasks. They were all so grateful to see that other people cared about their students and community and continuously thanked us for all our hard work. They even brought us goodies, including coffee and fruit. By the end of the day the garden looked like an entirely different place with a new grape arbor standing in the middle, a stage laid out in the corner, and many new plants beds scattered around. It was a great accomplishment.

Throughout the day, I could see that the volunteers were becoming more and more invested in the project, and by the end, I think we all left with a sense of accomplishment and pride in what we’d done for the students of Mark Twain Middle School. As tired as we all were, it was definitely a rewarding experience.

Do you have an amazing volunteer experience to share with us? We’d love to post them on our blog! Please send a write-up of your experience and any additional photos or videos to

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