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Renewing volunteerism at UCLA

Incoming UCLA students help to paint a school in the Los Angeles Unified School District during Zero Week of fall 2009 as part of Volunteer Day.

By Cristina Chang

June 28, 2010 1:15 a.m.

For Eva Leidman, service is not something she did questioningly.

Leidman, who graduated in June, said she grew up with caring parents who instilled in her the values of service. They invited the less fortunate over during family dinners and volunteered to help women survivors of breast cancer. And last fall, she became a student fellow for the UCLA Volunteer Center during its inaugural year.

As a student fellow, Leidman helped formulate the Center’s goals, missions and coordinated programs, such as Bruin Heroes, which recognizes student service groups, and Volunteer Day, where incoming students volunteered in the Los Angeles community before classes began.

The programs are all part of a push that began last fall to re-emphasize service and volunteerism on campus. This will continue during the upcoming school year with the return of Volunteer Day and the introduction of Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends care packages to service members overseas.

According to Chancellor Gene Block, when he first became chancellor, one of his goals was to increase public service on campus and leave students with a sense of commitment to the community.

UCLA has a history of community service, and the campus increased that commitment at the start of the school year with the creation of the Volunteer Center and Volunteer Day, Block said.

Block oversaw a year where service was added as one of the True Bruin values alongside integrity, excellence, accountability and respect. An emphasis was placed on service as one of the three main pillars of the UCLA community, which also include research and education.

According to Leidman, there were few coordinated and university-supported volunteer efforts prior to last year,

“There has always been a high participation rate of volunteerism among students, staff and faculty, but now we can talk about it in a way that honors the commitment,” said Antoinette Mongelli, executive director of the UCLA Volunteer Center. “The purpose (of the Center) is to make it a one-stop focal point for volunteerism.”

She added that before the center was established, it was hard for individual service groups to contact members or find new volunteers because there was no unified calendar or website.

The chancellor felt there was a need to focus on good work being done in the community, but that there was no way to do so, she said.

With that in mind, Mongelli and David Bloome, who now serves as the center’s campaign director, put up the proposal for a volunteer center and shared it with Block.

Since its inception, the center has coordinated Volunteer Day, which earned a letter of recognition from Michelle Obama and a visit from California’s Secretary of Service and Volunteering.

The Volunteer Center also established a Student Fellows Program, where a panel of students like Leidman advises the center on areas like social networking. It cosponsored a food drive last fall for the UCLA Food Closet and the L.A. Food Bank and sponsored two Westwood cleanups during spring quarter.

Students can also look for community service opportunities through the volunteer center website, Block said. They can even take coursework dealing with community service or join a student service organization.

Community service offers students an opportunity to build leadership skills, become better citizens and develop a commitment to the community, Block said. He added that service also gives students valuable real-world experience they need for success.

“If you’re helping with medical care or in food kitchens, you’ll see some of the problems you won’t see on campus,” Block said.

Leidman said the center is currently in the process of creating its 2.0 version, with a redesigned website that will have a comprehensive multimedia map and calendar of volunteer opportunities. Students and alumni around the world would be able to search by ZIP code and type of volunteer activity, she added, providing a “unified place where Joe Bruin can spend his Saturday.”

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Cristina Chang
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