Much More Than a Day
Published Oct 1, 2011 12:00 AM
Despite suffering through such recent calamities as earthquakes, hurricanes and the downtrodden economy — or perhaps because of it — people have continued to volunteer in greater numbers than ever. And in Westwood, the UCLA Volunteer Center has adeptly corralled all that goodwill into a number of innovative, year-round projects.
The 2011 Westwood Organized MEGA Project targeted high-need areas of Westwood Village for spring cleaning.
From UCLA Volunteer Center YouTube channel
The first project tackled by the center in 2009 was UCLA Volunteer Day, which sent thousands of students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and friends all across Los Angeles to paint, clean and revitalize the community in which they live and learn. The third UCLA Volunteer Day takes place this month, in fact. But service doesn't stop when the buses return to campus; there are many bridges between Bruins and the community, and all are united in the UCLA Volunteer Center.
Under the guidance of Executive Director Antoinette Mongelli and her staff, the center has created and sponsored more than seven new projects, including the Westwood Organized MEGA Project (WOMP); One Bus, One Cause; and Project SPELL.
"By connecting Bruins to service opportunities year-round, the UCLA Volunteer Center both fosters and reflects our campus-wide passion for giving back," says Chancellor Gene Block. "It has been especially heartening to see the center emerge as an incubator for programs envisioned and created by members of our Bruin community."
Project SPELL (Students for Progress in Employee Language Learning) is the brainchild of the center's special projects staffer, Sarah Torres. Twice a week for eight weeks, tutors work one-on-one with a member of the UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services (H&HS) or General Services staff in English skills. H&HS staff members can use up to 25 hours of paid time to work with their Project SPELL tutors.
"Project SPELL is about connecting with another person and providing skills and resources that enable them to communicate more effectively," notes Angela Marciano '80, H&HS director of programming and development. "This program has the potential to produce life-changing results for the learner."
Meanwhile, WOMP targets high-need areas of Westwood Village with funds raised by the Westwood Community Council. The Volunteer Center coordinates the volunteer support of more than 500 UCLA students, faculty, staff and alumni to bring back a bit of spark and luster to the Village. Sidewalks are cleaned, new trees are potted and planted, giant murals are created and hung in empty storefronts, and faded benches and lampposts are repainted a spirited "Westwood Blue."
For Steve Sann '83, J.D. '91, chair of the Westwood Community Council, WOMP is "the confluence of a lot of people thinking along the same line — that we need to do something in Westwood Village."
The next WOMP will be on April 28, 2012. Sann figures that the community and student leaders will continue "legacy projects" like tree planting and paint touch-ups, but leaves any new projects up in the air. After all, Westwood is always a work in progress.
Alesha Unpingco '10, marketing manager and social media strategist for the center, created a project called One Bus, One Cause, where a busload of volunteers heads to a predetermined site in L.A. to volunteer and learn about a specific service area.
"Instead of one day at one site like Volunteer Day, One Bus, One Cause is more exploratory," Unpingco says, "where we focus on a cause each month or quarter to address needs in the area."
For Bruins who give their time, sweat and passion to the Volunteer Center programs, the payback is much more rewarding than the commitment.
"Volunteering creates personal growth," concludes David Tracy '12. "The Volunteer Center forms an important link between UCLA and Los Angeles, and it promotes a sense of community ownership amongst current Bruins and alumni."