With all the hair-pulling over health care, I thought I'd share a heart-warming story from UCLA, where last week, our freshman class, 4,300 strong, went out a few days before school started to volunteer in the community. From painting walls, to cleaning up the beach, to clearing dry brush, this was the first time anything of this magnitude had been attempted, and UCLA plans to make this a yearly tradition. We even got on the CBS Evening News!
And it looks like we may have just set a national record in the process, too. :-)
In what is believed to be the nation's largest-ever university-organized volunteer day, an army of 4,300 UCLA freshmen and transfer students, the size of a NATO brigade, fanned out across Los Angeles Tuesday morning to make the city a better place.
Although classes don't start until Thursday, students are getting a lesson in community service. For UCLA's first Volunteer Day, nearly 1,000 students began trail repair at Griffith Park, 1,000 more tackled beach clean-up at Point Dume in Malibu, and about 500 each beautified the Veterans Affairs hospital in West Los Angeles and five Los Angeles Unified School District campuses.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, who has made volunteerism a priority since taking the reins in 2007, was joined by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at Gompers Middle School in South Los Angeles to applaud the 600 Bruins blanketing the campus. They scurried across the asphalt, repainting basketball court outlines and giving buildings a new coat of paint.
"This is an opportunity right at the get-go to say, 'Service is important at UCLA,'" Block said. "UCLA Volunteer Day is an affirmation of UCLA's obligation, as a public university, to serve the community ... It's an opportunity for our students to help out, but hopefully it's just the beginning of a year long of service."
All together, the 4,300 students, joined by 300 staff, faculty, alumni and older undergraduates who served as task captains, slathered on 555 gallons of paint, planted dozens of trees at schools, restored trails at Griffith Park, rebuilt fences at Point Dume and more. Across the 26 different work sites, the people who care for the campuses and parks on a daily basis told the students how much the work meant.
Here's a short video UCLA made about the day with quotes from the chancellor and L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
And these videos show the day from the student perspective.
(Check out that awesome map at the 3:38 mark!)
There's also a Flickr page for all the different volunteering efforts from that day.
Perhaps the most amazing and inspiring thing about this was that it wasn't mandatory for the freshman class. Thousands of UCLA freshmen did it because they wanted to help out. This was pure volunteerism to better the community we live in.
So. UCLA has now laid down the gauntlet. As a proud Bruin alum and current grad student at UCLA, I'm issuing a challenge to every other university in the country to do the same in your own communities. Organize this, and get your students involved in something bigger than themselves. We've shown it can be done with remarkable success in just our first year, and we'll be hopefully doing this from now on, every single year. Every school should do the same. Will you meet our challenge?