The UCLA Volunteer Center cut ties with an annual volunteering event in Westwood last year to focus its resources on more meaningful projects that engage the community, center officials said.
Westwood community leaders organized the Westwood Organized Meaningful Projects from 2010 to 2014. The Volunteer Center was an official sponsor until 2014 when officials decided they would only help recruit student volunteers.
During WOMP projects, about 300 to 500 students planted trees, removed graffiti and cleaned streets throughout Westwood Village.
Volunteer Center officials questioned whether Westwood needed the event after the creation of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, an organization operating the Westwood Business Improvement District, in 2011. The association provides Westwood Village with services such as sidewalk cleaning, tree trimming and lobbying to city officials about interests concerning Westwood.
Andrew Thomas, executive director of the association, said association ambassadors would often have to redo WOMP projects because they were not done properly, which cost the association time and money.
Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council and founder of WOMP, said he thinks WOMP can complement the association’s efforts by providing services the association does not have the time or money to offer. He added WOMP focused on places outside of the association’s boundaries, such as the Westwood Branch Library and the Westwood Recreation Center on Sepulveda Boulevard.
The Volunteer Center also had concerns about liability, former UCLA Volunteer Center Director Rachel Corell said. She added WOMP recruits more than 300 volunteers who may injure themselves or others during the event.
Sann said no one has been injured during WOMP projects, and organizers bought a one-day event insurance plan that covered student volunteers and passersby. The American Red Cross at UCLA would also have a booth in Westwood during WOMP to provide aid to volunteers if needed, he added.
Corell also said Sann never provided UCLA with records of expenditures even after the Volunteer Center requested them. Sann said WOMP organizers always met before the event, and he showed them the budget then. He added most donations, such as T-shirts and other materials such as paint, were not monetary.
Emails between Corell and current Volunteer Center Director Shannon Hickman, sent to the Daily Bruin in compliance with the California Public Records Act, show Sann trying to continue WOMP.
Corell told Hickman she had already told Sann UCLA would not participate in WOMP, but he was free to organize it on his own.
“UCLA does plenty of other meaningful, local community work,” Corell said in the email. “We want no part in a disorganized event with no budget, permits or planning.”
Sann said WOMP relied on the Volunteer Center for supplies and recruitment. He added he hopes WOMP or a similar event will happen in the near future.
Despite UCLA’s decisions, several people said they think it was a good way to get UCLA students involved in Westwood.
Clinton Schudy, owner of Oakley’s Barber Shop who serves on the association’s board of directors, said many of his student clients told him WOMP made them want to go into Westwood more often. He added he thinks it also made the Village look cleaner.
Armen Hadjimanoukian, a UCLA alumnus who co-chaired WOMP in its final two years, said he liked that WOMP gave students who come from all over the world a sense of community through volunteering. He added he thinks it provided a space where students could interact with homeowners and business owners from the area.
“When you would go to the Village after with your friends, you can look at the projects you worked on, and that gave you a good feeling,” Hadjimanoukian said.
He added he would like to see UCLA and Westwood community leaders work together to make WOMP happen again.
Hickman said the Volunteer Center still provides local volunteering opportunities in Westwood Village.