Post date: Feb 19, 2018 6:29:31 AM

This bi-monthly entry focuses on the many opportunities for volunteerism at and around UCLA. One of the most significant changes in moving from a rural university town to an urban area is the increased awareness of the needs, struggles, and aspirations of people in the community. A substantial reason for this change in perception is simply the difference in population density — similar needs exist everywhere. I encourage all my students to strongly consider spending some of their time in volunteer work, and fortunately, UCLA offers a well organized Volunteer Center to help people plug in to such activities. Here, you can find a plethora of opportunities to serve, ranging from projects at local schools to support of at-risk youth.

Typically a prospective volunteer will first think about needs — as well they should. But in addition, my experience suggests that a good match between community needs and a person’s skills (sometimes called ‘gifts’) is also very important. For example, if you speak a foreign language, perhaps a need exists to teach English to those who only know that foreign language. In my case, I’ve spent countless hours volunteering with sports at many levels — e.g., I was the volunteer Assistant Assistant Baseball Coach at Cornell while I was pursuing my PhD (note: my advisor was overly kind to let me do so). Since then, I’ve coached youth baseball with my own children and also without them, just because I enjoy it so much. Here in LA, I’m expecting to volunteer with youth baseball in a nearby community.

Another strong need exists for experienced mentors of undergraduates in extra-curricular activities. Many student clubs and organizations benefit greatly from experienced advisors. A significant but perhaps non-obvious example involves the Greek system, which seems to make news far too often for poor behavior. While mentoring will not eliminate all such problems, it certainly would help immensely. And I know from my own experience, as well as that of my sons, that fraternities can become very positive forces both for their members and those that they touch through outreach and volunteerism. For example, my two sons cycled across the continent (>3000 miles) to raise money for people with disabilities through their national fraternity’s Journey of Hope.

Lastly, innumerable other opportunities exist for direct off-campus volunteerism. Such opportunities are available at virtually any community center or religious organization in the local community. A personal favorite of mine is the Westside Vineyard. But regardless of whether or not the foregoing volunteer opportunities fit you, I hope that you’ll find a way to give back to your local community.