Published Jan 1, 2010 9:00 AM
They painted. They cleaned. They built. They made a difference.
"They" are a NATO brigade's worth of volunteers — more than 4,300 incoming UCLA freshmen, almost the entire class — joined by 300 staff, faculty, alumni and older undergraduates serving as task captains, who fanned out across Los Angeles for Volunteer Day last fall.
On Sept. 22, 103 buses took the excited freshmen and their team captains to eight different locations. Among them: nearly 1,000 students began trail repair at Griffith Park, 1,000 more tackled beach clean-up at Point Dume in Malibu, and about 500 each beautified the Veterans Affairs hospital in West Los Angeles and five Los Angeles Unified School District campuses.
Decked out in blue and yellow T-shirts, the volunteers accomplished in one day what would otherwise have taken weeks to get done — if at all. At Samuel Gompers Middle School, for example, young Bruins scurried across the asphalt, repainting basketball court outlines and giving buildings a new coat of paint. And they had celebrity help: UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, his wife, Carol, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa '77.
The event kicked off the university's new Volunteer Center, supported by a $250,000 grant from the Entertainment Industry Foundation. Both Volunteer Day and the Volunteer Center are critical components in Chancellor Block's mission to make UCLA a dynamic engine for civic engagement.
"Service is key to UCLA's mission as a public university, but I want our students' commitment to it to last a lifetime," Block says. "Volunteer Day demonstrated just how much we can contribute and how rewarding it is to serve together."
The Bruins who fanned out across the city on Volunteer Day certainly seemed to feel that way. Freshman Jen Lee, for example, who built benches at a local high school, says, "By the end of the day, looking at our finished products, I really felt like I had accomplished something. It was nice to get to know people outside of the classroom. I do think it should become a UCLA tradition. It was about doing something different that stirred up some excitement for the upcoming day."
Indeed, "there are no hurdles to stop people from becoming engaged," explains center Executive Director Antoinette Mongelli. "We need to inculcate people that this is what it means to be a citizen."
Mongelli is preparing to make Volunteer Day next year even better, listening to the feedback of participants and hoping this year's freshmen come back as next year's leaders. And with the launch a huge success, the Volunteer Center leadership is looking for new opportunities to help Bruins serve. Mongelli has received emails from alumni from as far away as London, asking what they can do.
Susan Crockett '71, a member of the Alumni Association board and one of the participants in Volunteer Day, sees a vast opportunity for individuals to give back with the center.
"We have a responsibility to the university and community because we are the lucky ones," she believes. "The university should play a huge role in the community, and we need to be more visible."