Lessons Learned from UCLA Volunteer Day

All the organizing and emailing for UCLA Volunteer Day seems to have come to a trickling end. I'm exhausted. But it feels amazing. Today thousands of UCLA students joined with graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni and affiliated members spread out all over Los Angeles to help out the community. I was fortunate enough to lead one of the 52 sites called Hope of Valley Rescue Mission. Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission is a non-profit organization that provides food, emergency shelter, and resources for those in need. Their goal is to provide homeless individuals with services to empower them with the ability to achieve self-sustainability.

My group of over 60 volunteers consisted of 10 task captains (mix of sophomores, juniors and seniors students), and 50 freshmen. Together, they helped paint the management offices, pressure washed the courtyards, sorted donations, organized the thrift shop, and cleaned up the parking lot outside the building. All these tasks were completed in about two and a half hours so the UCLA freshmen students could load the bus on time to get back to UCLA. I was running around making sure there were enough volunteers for each task, there were enough supplies, and everyone was having a great time. Of course, I had a chance to add more paint to my painting pants and do some sweeping as well. At the end of the morning, everyone made new friends, learned about the importance of service, helping those in need, and giving back to the community. Lessons that are the essence of UCLA Volunteer Day, but that lasts a lifetime.

I often wonder about how much of my monetary donation goes towards the actual cause. I believe it's a legitimate question, but not enough of a reason to stop contributing to the community. I can still help the specific organization I'm interested in by volunteering my time and help out the community directly. That way I don't have to wonder how much of a difference I am making, I can see the impact. Many of us (I know I sometimes do) make conditional statements: "If I have time, I will...", "If I was rich, I will...", "In the future, I will...", especially when it comes to volunteering because it seems like the opportunity will always be there. We forget that it does not take very long to make a difference in the world.

A few hours of serving food in a homeless shelter can bring hope into someone's life. A morning sorting food at the local food back can prevent a family from starving. A day helping at the community garden can help children learn about the importance of proper nutrition. A few hours spent reading to kids can help combat illiteracy. Conditional statements only make us plan far into the future, and make us forget how to treasure the present and seize the day. It does not take much time to make a difference in the world. Not only did we make a difference today with UCLA Volunteer Day, but we also took away lessons for a lifetime. Ask yourself: How do you plan to help?