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UCLA

Volunteer Army

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By Bethany Powers '11

Published Jan 1, 2011 8:00 AM


UCLA Volunteer Day is the university's largest and most far-reaching outreach project, and one sunny day in late September, about 6,000 new freshmen, transfer students, alumni, staff, faculty and even Chancellor Block tackled about two dozen projects across Los Angeles.

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Chancellor Gene Block and his wife, Carol, pitched in with the planting at Angelus Plaza senior center.

The freshmen have just moved into the dorms and are still flush with the excitement of Bruin Bash. Their schedules are already jam-packed with a variety of True Bruin Welcome activities, but there's one event they all participate in: Volunteer Day. On September 21, more than 5,000 freshmen, directed by volunteer site leaders and directors, hopped onto yellow school buses to make a difference across the Los Angeles community.

It's only the second year for Volunteer Day, but the event is already starting to feel like a Bruin tradition.

"We have two years of freshmen saying this is what should happen, and this is what should always happen," says Antoinette Mongelli, executive director of the Volunteer Center.

The inaugural Volunteer Day in 2009 had students volunteering in eight different locations. This year, the number of sites didn't just double — it jumped all the way to 22. The new Bruins and their team leaders, along with alumni volunteers and transfer students, fanned out from Griffith Park to the Veterans Affairs Hospital to the beaches of Santa Monica. And at the Angelus Plaza senior center, students worked alongside Chancellor Gene Block and his wife, Carol, who also volunteered at the Union Rescue Mission. The volunteers restored nature trails and wetlands, removed fire hazards, mentored, beautified local schools, repainted murals and performed dozens of other services.

Mongelli noted the difference that student involvement made in planning this year's event. "ORL [the Office of Residential Life] was much more involved," she says. "We had much more student involvement from the very beginning."

In just one day of work, the impact that the volunteers leave at their sites is noticeable and, more important, lasting. But the event also is a huge learning experience for the incoming freshmen, and it facilitates ties between roommates and floors.

"I thought Volunteer Day was so instrumental in helping me meet people on my floor," agrees freshman Sarah Burtner. "I loved how I was able to bond with the people I'd be living with all year. I can't think of a better way to have people socialize and work together, and I think it made everyone think of how we could be a family and learn to cooperate with each other through anything."

Having fun with a paintbrush doesn't hurt, either.

Alumnus Edward Simon '82 was a site leader at the 99th Street Elementary School. He also participated as a site leader last year and saw firsthand how the event has grown. "I was really impressed with the students," he says. "I think it inspires the current students to stay involved in volunteer work, but it was also an inspiration to future UCLA students."

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