By Harry Mok
A teacher volunteering his time in an afterschool program inspired Pricila Chavez Lara's interest in music.
Now a junior music major at UC Riverside, Chavez Lara recalled her first-grade teacher's generosity when deciding to use part of a scholarship she won to start a youth orchestra in her hometown of Hemet.
"What if that wasn't there for me," she said of the music program she attended all through elementary school. "Music was made available to me through another person's community service."
Volunteerism is ingrained in the culture and public service mission of the University of California. Chavez Lara is among the thousands of students, staff and faculty at UC campuses who take part in that mission. "I truly believe in karma," Chavez Lara said. "If I help others, others will help me."
That philosophy is brought to life on a daily basis at all UC campuses. Washington Monthly ranked eight UC campuses in its 2010 list of universities that contribute to the public good and encourage students to give back. According to the 2008 Undergraduate Experience Survey, 58 percent of UC students participate in some form of community service. The activities can be small, such as starting a youth musical group, and big, such as participating in UCLA's Volunteer Day.
"There is a bigger context than us doing good in the community," said Antoinette Mongelli, executive director of the UCLA Volunteer Center. "It is an important aspect on how to define a state university."
Students, staff and faculty who engage in public service form closer bonds with the campus and the community, and students come away better educated and prepared for graduation, Mongelli said.
"You come to us smart, we're here to make you leaders," Mongelli said of students. "They are given an opportunity to do something bigger than themselves."
Getting the entire campus community involved
In 2009, UCLA held its first Volunteer Day, an event in which more than 4,000 freshman and other volunteers fanned out across the Los Angeles region to repaint schools, serve meals at homeless shelters, landscape parks and clean beaches.
Chancellor Gene Block pledged to build upon UCLA's commitment to public service when he took his post in 2007. Along with Volunteer Day, UCLA created a Volunteer Center that serves as an online hub for those seeking opportunities to make a difference.
"At a time when volunteer participation is viewed increasingly as a national priority, it is critical for UCLA to be a catalyst for social change and to serve as a leader, inspiring other institutions as well," Block said in announcing the Volunteer Center in 2009.
Incoming UCLA freshman also now participate in a volunteer activity during orientation, which this year involved sending care packages to military personnel serving overseas.
At UC San Diego, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox is challenging students, staff, faculty and alumni to perform 50 hours of volunteer service by June 2011 as part of the campus's 50th anniversary celebration. Volunteers are being asked to log their time at the Volunteer50 website; the goal is to reach 50,000 hours of service.
"Service is an important part of the UC San Diego and the University of California mission, and Volunteer50 is a key component of our 50th anniversary celebration," Fox said at a beach cleanup that kicked off the initiative. "This is a chance for the UC San Diego family to give back to our community — a community that has supported us for 50 years."
The power of one
UC volunteer efforts often are very personal and aimed at helping the communities surrounding campuses. Service learning classes teach the value of volunteer work while students earn course credit, and campus volunteer centers connect those who want to help with those in need.
Chavez Lara wanted to give back to her hometown, and she was also responding to the needs of her neighborhood, which was hit recently by the killing of a teenager by another youth.
"It got me thinking that there are not enough activities for the youth in our town, at least not something with a universal language, like music," Chavez Lara said, so she decided to start the orchestra. "If teens are murdering teens, why not have youth lead youth for the betterment of society?"
Chavez Lara, who would like to someday conduct an orchestra professionally, leads weekly practice sessions in her parents' living room for up to 25 youth and has a goal of enrolling 100 in the group in two years. The students use instruments purchased with money from Chavez Lara's $4,800 Presser Foundation scholarship, and she has worked out discount rental deals with music stores.
"She has the patience to show you what she knows about music and to get others to love it as well," said Faviola Duarte, 16, a junior at San Jacinto High School, who is learning the violin in Chavez Lara's music group. "I think it's really cool."
It was ‘something that really needed to be done'
UC Merced natural sciences professor Patti LiWang also saw a need in her community and took action. After reading in Time magazine that food stamps don't cover diapers or toilet paper, LiWang checked to see if any area organizations filled this gap in services for low-income families. None did, so she started a diaper and toilet paper drive on campus and donated what she collected to the Merced County Food Bank.
"I really just felt like this was something that really needed to be done," LiWang said, noting that diapers can be expensive, especially for families in need. "Everyone has a soft spot in their hearts for babies. I have little kids myself."
It's been a modest effort the past two years with collection bins in the science and engineering building during the summer. Even so, she's donated 5,854 diapers and 378 rolls of toilet paper to the food bank. LiWang hopes to do more publicity and expand the number of collection bins across campus next year.
"It really helps them in a big way," said Merced County Food Bank Executive Director Phyllis Legg, of those who benefit from LiWang's collections. "They have no other resources. They just can't believe it sometimes."
Experiences change lives
UC Irvine senior Doug Cheung changed his career plans after he started volunteering for a nonprofit that assists AIDS patients. The work got him interested in the health field, and he switched from economics to neurobiology as a major and plans to go to medical school.
He is the co-founder and president of Students for Integrative Medicine, which provides stress-reduction and nutrition workshops for the homeless community and low-income families in Orange County.
For his efforts, Cheung was named co-winner of the 2010-11 XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship, which recognizes UC Irvine students committed to ethical leadership, peace and positive global relations. Part of the scholarship money will be used to create an undergraduate course and public forum promoting the holistic understanding of illness and healing.
"I basically have developed my career goal around this," Cheung said of his volunteer work. "I feel so ecstatic when I help people. Everyday I wake up knowing this is what I do, and this just gives me a purpose to my life."
Many volunteers donate time in areas that match their career interests. UC Berkeley senior Manny Lee wants to be a teacher and is volunteering as an elementary school tutor through Cal Corps' Berkeley United In Literacy Development program.
Volunteering is "helping the community and helping me reach my goals," Lee said as a whirlwind of fifth- and sixth-graders buzzed around him at the James Kenney Recreation Center in Berkeley, where he helps children with their homework. "I enjoy it. There's something different every day. It never gets boring."
Free health care for the needy
UC Health delivers care and produces groundbreaking research to fulfill the needs of California and beyond. Some medical students and faculty go the extra mile, volunteering at free clinics that provide health care to those who don't have access or can't afford it.
In April, hundreds of doctors from UCLA joined a weeklong free medical clinic at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, treating more than 1,000 patients.
Students from UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State and the University of San Francisco operate a free clinic with faculty advisers from UCSF.
"We're trying to bridge the gap between services that are available in the city and from UCSF and extend it to those in the community," said Alvin Teodoro, founder and executive director of the Mabuhay Health Center.
Mabuhay, which received a grant from the UCSF Office of Community Partnerships, serves the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco and works with the Bayanihan Community Center to provide medical screenings and education. Mabuhay is also researching ways to reduce health-care disparities for residents of the area, home to a large low-income and Filipino-American community.
Mabuhay began holding once-a-month clinics on a Saturday at the Bayanihan Community Center in January 2010, and Teodoro said there are plans to add locations and clinic days in 2011.
"Health profession students are in a unique and privileged position to help people's lives," said Teodoro, who immigrated to the United States from the Philippines when he was a child. "This community is very personal to me and my family and my background."
In Orange County, Glenn Gookin saw similar health-care disparities despite the region's reputation as a wealthy area.
"There seemed to be a dichotomy of health care access between the very affluent and low-income residents," said Gookin, a UC Irvine student finishing a doctorate in toxicology who plans to attend medical school. "It was eye-opening and made you think."
He put his thoughts to action by helping to expand a monthly referral clinic that operated alongside a Santa Ana soup kitchen and turning it into a weekly student-run free clinic offering many primary-care services.
Established in November 2008, UC Irvine Outreach Clinics provide free service every Saturday inside the Hurtt Family Health Clinic, which is part of the Orange County Rescue Mission's Village of Hope in Tustin.
"For me, the satisfaction is twofold," Gookin said. "There's the obvious service component, but also exposing students who might go into private practice and never work with underserved communities. Maybe down the line they become a specialist and can offer some pro bono work, maybe help one of our patients down the line."
Law students work pro bono
UC law schools provide an opportunity for students to work in clinics focusing on such areas as immigration, environmental and human rights legal. Students receive real-world experience and clients get legal assistance they couldn't otherwise afford.
Holly Cooper, associate director of the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic, traveled to Haiti twice this year as part of a humanitarian mission after a devastating earthquake hit the country in January. She assisted people with critical injuries to petition the U.S. government to allow them into the country for medical treatment.
Providing free legal assistance "enhances the credibility of UC" by using resources to benefit the community, she said, and clinics such as hers can help students, staff and faculty as well.
"Hopefully we are a resource for students facing difficult issues — students who are undocumented or even citizens if a family member is facing deportation," Cooper said.
Service learning integrates community service with the classroom. At UC Santa Cruz, taking a service-learning course is a requirement for undergraduates. For some students, volunteering is a way to flesh out their resumes and gain work experience. But many college students have been doing community service since high school, and for them, it's a way of life, according to Franklin Williams, who's been teaching service learning at UC Santa Cruz for 15 years.
"We haven't lost that spirit of service," Williams said. "There are still people doing this work because it's the right thing to do."
Volunteering at a Santa Cruz homeless shelter was an education for Diane Nguyen, who said she experienced a period of homelessness as a teenager.
"Service learning gives you the opportunity to share your experience and reflect and learn from it," said Nguyen, a senior sociology major. "Actually going out there and helping other homeless people, it brought me back to where I used to be and helped me embrace it. You have to give back because you've been through it."
Students are in a unique position to serve because most aren't working full time and can afford to volunteer a few hours a week, according to David Lee, co-director of the Associated Students Community Affairs Board at UC Santa Barbara, which matches volunteers to organizations and runs outreach programs of its own.
"Sometimes I wonder, ‘Jeez, I'm not getting paid, why am I doing this? And I have school, too,' " said Lee, who volunteers as a youth music teacher with The M.U.S.I.C. Club, a partner group of the Community Affairs Board. "When I walk onto the elementary school campus where I tutor, the kids recognize me and say, ‘Hey it's the music man!' When I see the smiles on their faces and excitement in their eyes, I am reminded, ‘That's why I do it.' "