Emile Sharifi led a fundraising campaign to prevent a South-Central Los Angeles medical clinic from closing. Abigail Valencia set up a computer lab and taught classes to homeless women. Sherry Yafai organized a mobile clinic to treat the ailments of West Hollywood homeless people.
Their good works and giving spirits were honored May 8 when they received the 2001 Charles E. Young Humanitarian Award for their outstanding contributions and commitment to public service. The award, formerly known as the Chancellor's Humanitarian Award, recognizes service in any field, including aid to the hungry, homeless or sick; protection of the environment; work for the elimination of cruelty or injustice; and efforts for the resolution of community or national conflict.
Sharifi led a fundraising campaign to prevent the University Muslim Medical Association (UMMA) Free Clinic from being shut down and recruited the largest and most active volunteer work force the clinic had ever had. Valencia taught computer classes for homeless women at Hawkes' Transitional Residence in downtown Los Angeles. Yafai is president and founder of the UCLA Mobile Clinic Project, which provides basic health care services to homeless people in West Hollywood.
In addition to having their names engraved on a bronze plaque on campus, each recipient received cash prizes of $500 to be used for the humanitarian activity or program of their choice.
Sharifi (Hemet) personally recruited the clinic's largest and most active group of volunteers and structured an administrative system in which UCLA volunteers do everything from taking patients' vital signs to distributing medications to providing translation services for the clinic patrons. The fundraiser he led raised more than $300,000 from the medical community and individuals.
A senior who majors in European Studies, Sharifi said his goal is to have the best two volunteers of any given year awarded an academic scholarship for their services. He has already started fundraising for the scholarship.
"I felt great personal reward in this achievement," he said. "In many ways this particular volunteer experience has helped me come closer to understanding my own reasons for becoming a doctor."
A.K. Jaffer, a clinic sponsor, said when the clinic's shallow coffers were quickly diminishing, Sharifi called dozens of pharmaceutical companies and brokered agreements with them to obtain free medication. "Emile saved the clinic and the free services it offers to patients," Jaffer said. "In all my years as a physician I have not seen the same altruistic display of service in my colleagues as I have seen in Emile. He will medically benefit whatever community he sets his sights on with his energy and vision."
Valencia (San Jose), a senior whose major is applied math, has volunteered with several organizations including mentoring at Samahang Pilipino and for the Pilipino recruitment and enrichment project, coaching athletes for the Special Olympics and working with the National Coalition Against Hunger and Homelessness.
However, it was teaching computer classes for homeless women at Hawkes transitional residence, a homeless shelter for women and children at the Good Shepherd Center in downtown Los Angeles, that Valencia considers her most significant humanitarian service. Valencia said the students in her class are women of all ages, backgrounds and experience who have never even touched a computer. "Our original goal was to teach them basic computer skills, but they are constantly pushing us to teach them more," she said.
Valencia said the shelter had old computers that needed to be assembled. She took out an ad in the campus newspaper asking students to help set up the new computer classes by either donating computer parts or their time. The response was overwhelming, she said. In six weeks, Valencia and other volunteers set up the computer lab at the shelter.
She said she plans to use the funds from the award to strengthen UCLA student groups who help the local homeless community.
"Without her and the numerous volunteers she lead in to assist the women, many of the women might have continued the harsh cycle of homelessness, entering shelter to shelter, trying to set a straight path in their life," said Lucia Pujol, case manager for the Good Shepherd Center.
Yafai (Encino), a senior whose major is neuroscience, knew while she was working at the West Hollywood Food Coalition that more needed to be done for the West Hollywood homeless population. She began to research the social and medical issues afflicting the group, eager to get her hands on any material she thought might help her understand their plight. It wasn't long before other students shared her passion and the idea of providing this population with medical, dental and social services came to fruition.
Last spring, a mobile clinic was established through Yafai's efforts. "I knew how valuable these services would be to this group, my second family," she said. "I never thought I would be able to impact another human's life to this extent, let alone during my undergraduate years."
Yafai designed a format in which the medical, public health and undergraduate schools could learn from each other while simultaneously helping the community. The three-tier process includes a social evaluation, physical examination and final diagnosis with the best means of treatment. She said their clients are now able to treat chronic problems they normally would not have taken the time to deal with before, such as fungus and scabies.
"Sherry is truly committed to health-related issues and to helping those in need," said Koy Parada in UCLA's Department of Community Health Sciences. "She has worked in a number of capacities with underprivileged children including as a camp counselor and in an overcrowded and under-equipped pediatric ward in a hospital in Thailand. She remains committed to helping a largely underserved and indigent population."