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Bruins give back to low-income school at volunteer day

By Yancey Cashell

Sept. 26, 2013 3:20 a.m.

Tucked away in the streets of Koreatown with a rainbow stripe painted across its buildings, Leo Politi Elementary School stood warm and welcoming.

Several elementary students formed a pathway Tuesday morning, in which their eagerly awaited guests – about 200 UCLA students – were greeted on each side.

The school, which houses the highest percentage of students from low-income backgrounds in the Los Angeles Unified School District, was one of more than 50 sites UCLA students visited on the fifth-annual Volunteer Day.

Over 7,000 UCLA students participated in various activities throughout Los Angeles, including reading to kids at schools, helping in food banks and cleaning or painting parks.

At Leo Politi Elementary, UCLA students gardened, handed out bags full of school supplies to the elementary school students, organized class libraries and prepared a new classroom for the students.

For Charlene Fernandez, a fourth-year physiological science student, the young students are what have brought her back to volunteer the last two years.

Fernandez helped organize the day’s events for the UCLA students coming to volunteer.

“The students are very grateful, you can see it in their faces,” Fernandez said. “They don’t even have to say ‘thank you,’ their faces just light up.”

Fernandez said she understands the impact that service can have on a community that needs it, and has been involved in community service since high school, when she volunteered at a local hospital.

Several prominent educational figures spoke at the event, including Chancellor Gene Block, Speaker of the California State Assembly John Pérez and Benito Delgado-Olson, executive director of the K to College program, which gives away free dental kits and school supplies.

Leo Politi Elementary was chosen as a volunteer site last year because the school falls under the assembly Pérez he oversees.

The school has experienced increased academic success partially because of charity from outside sources.

Funding and contributions from other organizations, like Target and the Los Angeles Police Department, helped remodel the school’s library and give the students opportunities to go on trips to places like the Staples Center, Brad Rumble, school principle and UCLA alumnus, added.

“As a Bruin, for me (Volunteer Day at Leo Politi) feels almost like a homecoming,” Rumble said. “Our children at this school need to understand that not so far away from them is a university that is committed to continuing their education and to serving this community.”

Some of the students of Leo Politi said they were excited about the arrival of the UCLA students.

Fifth grader Anthony Jasso said that one of his favorite parts of the day was the bags of supplies he received, including a notebook, markers and highlighters.

“(Volunteer Day) helps us with school and it helps us think about college and our future,” Jasso said.

Some UCLA students who volunteered at the event said they enjoyed working with the students at Leo Politi.

Dennis Ho, a first-year theater student who was organizing books in the school library, said initially he did not want to attend Volunteer Day because he was hesitant to work with a bunch of UCLA students he didn’t know.

After attending and seeing the kids and how they reacted to the UCLA students, Ho said he was glad he came and that he will most likely attend again next year.

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Yancey Cashell
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