Written By: Adam Drown, ’15
& Shannon Regan Hickman
Assistant Director, UCLA Volunteer Center

Each fall, a new crop of freshman and transfer students get settled into their residence halls, apprehensive for their new lives as college students. These new Bruins unroll their posters, meet their floor mates, and get ready for True Bruin Welcome, a week filled with music, activity fairs, and sporting events. And for the 6th year, True Bruin Welcome will also include an opportunity for Bruins to make their mark on the larger community. On Monday, September 29, each new student will board a bus to a community site for UCLA Volunteer Day, a day of giving back that instills the True Bruin Value of Service in students before they’ve even attended their first classes.

With over 6,500 new student volunteers and over 1,000 returning student, faculty, staff, alumni, parent, and community leaders, Volunteer Day is the largest new student service event in the country. Community partner sites cover all of Los Angeles County, from Malibu to Pacoima to Watts, representing all 15 city council districts. Volunteers provide critical infrastructure, mentorship, and maintenance support at schools, parks, homeless shelters, senior centers, food banks, and neighborhoods in need.  In 2013, Volunteer Day participants logged 33,115 hours of service on just one day, in addition to the over 5,000 hours Project Leaders spent preparing for each project alongside community partners.

Building a Community of Heroes

Truly a community-wide effort, Volunteer Day offers many opportunities for non-students to get involved. Leadership roles at the partner sites include Project Leaders and Task Captains. Project Leaders work closely with the community partner at the site, and are responsible for managing the work, enacting a clear impact on the community, and ensuring that the work is completed. Task Captains also play an important role at each site, as they manage and instruct groups of 10-25 student volunteers.

Doing service with a wide variety of community members allows for unique networking and social opportunities. Many groups of coworkers or family members decide to participate as Project Leaders and Task Captains at a site together, and they often return year after year, creating a tradition they can look forward to each fall. UCLA Parents’ Council member Vito Costanzo has served as a Project Leader every year since the first Volunteer Day in 2009.  “I enjoy participating in Volunteer Day because it provides a unique opportunity to work with students, alumni and community leaders,” says Costanzo.  “It is nice to get out into the community and do some good.  One year, I had the opportunity to work with my son, who was a freshman, and his roommates from Saxon Suites.  I have also invited members of my law firm to participate as Task Captains.  Now, Volunteer Day is a regular part of my firm’s volunteer activities.”

About the Volunteer Center

The UCLA Volunteer Center and Volunteer Day were created in 2009 when service joined integrity, excellence, accountability, and respect as the fifth True Bruin Value. The Center’s mission is to inspire the more than 400,000 members of the extended UCLA family, as well as the community at large, to create social change through lifelong participation in volunteer programs and civic engagement. By kicking off each academic year with Volunteer Day, the Center strives to demonstrate the importance of service and encourage continued engagement throughout the academic year.

The spirit of service is certainly alive on the UCLA campus all year round. However, with over 200 student organizations on campus participating in service, plus hundreds of nonprofit organizations throughout the city, many willing volunteers are unsure of how to get started. The Volunteer Center serves as a central resource for all Bruins looking to serve. Visiting the Center’s website allows students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and community members interested in service to search for opportunities in a Volunteer Database as well as add events or organizations that are seeking volunteers. The Center also uses social media to actively recruit and inform volunteers of service related news and events.

Since 2009, the Center has also expanded to include several of its own volunteer initiatives and student leadership programs.

  • One Bus, One Cause: Using the momentum and enthusiasm for civic engagement that arises from Volunteer Day, the Center sends a bus filled with 50 volunteers into the community in order to address a specific need in that area. Through partnerships with other non-profits and outside organizations, this program addresses a different cause and organization with each visit, exposing Bruins to a sampling platter of volunteer opportunities and piquing volunteers’ interest in programs they could work with on an ongoing basis.
  • Project SPELL, or Students for Progress in Employee Language Learning works with non-native English speaking UCLA employees to teach English in order to further their careers. The campus employees, many of them custodial, janitorial, and dining staff, are paired with UCLA student tutors in a one-to-one environment so that sessions can be tailored to each employee’s individual goals.
  • An annual turkey dinner called Fall Harvest Feast provides a warm meal as well as food and supplies to take away during the long weekend for up to 100 needy UCLA students and their families.
  • United States military service members around the world receive more than 3,000 hand-written letters and care packages from UCLA each year in partnership with Operation Gratitude, a volunteer-run nonprofit organization based in Van Nuys. For some soldiers, this is the only contact they have with home, and the partnership strives to demonstrate recognition of, and appreciation for, military members’ service and sacrifice.

 

In addition to performing valuable community service, another major priority for the Volunteer Center is providing developmental opportunities for emerging leaders. With this goal in mind, the Center oversees initiatives in which students pursue their interests in community engagement and gain practical skills that can be applied to future leadership role.

 

  • Nonprofit Networking Night connects UCLA students to public service professionals who are currently recruiting for open internships and jobs in the non-profit sector. Hosted by the Volunteer Center, USAC Community Service Commission, Career Center, Office of Residential Life (ORL), Alumni Affairs, and Partnership UCLA, the event features speed networking activities and the opportunity to sit down with professionals and other UCLA students, gaining valuable insights about a wide variety of positions and organizations in the community.
  • The Center’s Volunteer Leadership Program gives undergraduate students an opportunity to work directly with the Center by planning and leading their own One Bus, One Cause community service projects in the Los Angeles community. Project Leaders maintain important relationships between the university and their designated community partners while gaining valuable leadership and professional skills applicable to any career. Many projects serve as a follow-up to the work done at the previous September’s Volunteer Day service sites.
  • Each spring, a new group of students are chosen to serve for thirteen months as UCLA Volunteer Center Fellows. The Fellows serve as an advisory board that works with the Center to promote community service and civic engagement opportunities by creating resources, programs, and projects for both campus service organizations and students. Fellows come from a variety of community and leadership perspectives at UCLA and in the Los Angeles community, but all share a commitment to service.
  • The Social Media & Marketing Internship Program offers students an opportunity to learn about technology and social media as tools for promoting civic engagement. Interns develop skills in areas such as communication, technology, social media, crowdfunding, group collaboration, and community outreach. Enthusiastic students with interests in media, video, photography, graphic design, or journalism are organized into teams and pursue individualized projects, creatively combining their professional interests with their passion for service.

To request further information, become a volunteer, or suggest a community partner site in your neighborhood, please visit the Center’s website or email volunteer@ucla.edu.