Seconds before the clock struck 8 in the morning, 5,375 first-year and transfer students flooded out of their residence halls, clothed in blue and gold, preparing to spend one of their first days at UCLA working as volunteers.
Students gathered in groups with their floormates, waiting for buses to transport them to sites all around Los Angeles.
One hour later, the students were still standing there.
Sitting in the control center, UCLA Volunteer Center directors stared anxiously at a screen displaying the traffic patterns of nearby freeways. It was frustrating and almost comical, said David Bloome, UCLA Volunteer Center campaign director.
“There were accidents on the 10 and 405 freeways, there was (an) ambulance, cars on the shoulder of the roads,” he said. “I see students standing there and I keep thinking, “˜There are thousands of them out there.’ I didn’t know what to do.”
Thankfully, the 90-minute bus delay was the only major obstacle of the day, Bloome said. Because of the detailed project planning done months in advance, the day’s events ran smoothly as soon as students boarded the buses.
Kicking off the second annual UCLA Volunteer Day, the UCLA Volunteer Center bused students to a total of 22 volunteer sites, including the Veterans Affairs Hospital, Emerson Middle School and the Ballona Institute, a wildlife restoration center. The event operated on a much larger scale than last year’s Volunteer Day, which sent about 4,300 students to eight different sites.
Yet while the total number of students and locations increased, the number of students in each site decreased significantly, Bloome said. While about 500 students were sent to each location last year, only 50 students worked at each site this year. As a result, all students were able to do a substantial share of work.
“Last year, we found that many community organizations could not take as many as 500 students,” he said. “At Griffith Park, they wanted us to go to several different locations within the park, so we created bus leaders and sent each bus to a different site. We got so good at it that we felt we could do it anywhere, so we learned to do something similar this year.”
The smaller groups allowed for greater efficiency in the work locations and fostered stronger bonds among students within the groups, said Haley Stauber, a first-year undeclared physical science student.
“I was with my roommate the whole time, and I also met a lot of people, which was cool,” she said. “The work went fast, and we were totally able to bond after spending the day together.”
Yet most of the efficiency can be attributed to the all-UCLA leadership at the sites, coupled with training for resident assistants beforehand, Bloome said. Alumni, staff and faculty directed students at the volunteer locations, creating a more UCLA-oriented mind set, he said.
“Last year, we partnered with L.A. Works,” he said. “But this year, we worked with many groups on campus, too. The Greek system helped with a beach project, and we worked with the (Undergraduate Students Association Council) and (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps).”
The Office of Residential Life also trained 30 student leaders on the Hill earlier in the year, bringing them to the volunteer sites and reinforcing the mission of the Volunteer Day projects, said Kiran Sonnad, an RA at Hedrick Summit.
“One of the problems last year was that RAs didn’t have enough knowledge of what to do and why,” Sonnad said.
“Last year, we did not know where we were going until the morning of, but this year, (RAs) talked to residents and gave them more information, so they were able to have more connection and passion for their work.”
The annual Volunteer Day is more than a mandatory new student event, but represents an important attitude for all UCLA students to uphold, said USAC President Jasmine Hill.
“It is important to acknowledge that our goal is to promote a holistic education, including high-quality teaching and public service,” Hill said. “We are holding the university to that standard, and it is part of who we are at this university.”
The collaborative nature of the event revealed the value and power of teamwork, Bloome said.
“For me, last year I felt an incredible sense of exhilaration, just knowing that we did it for the first time ever,” he said. “This year, I felt an incredible sense of confidence. We were an organized army that could attack any challenge together; it was incredible.”