Hundreds of Occidental College students, faculty, alumni, and staff fanned out to more than 20 locations across Los Angeles on Saturday, January 28 to weed and plant gardens, work phone banks and canvass neighborhoods, and clean, repair and paint, as part of the College's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
Determined to participate in the national effort to give back to the community in honor of Dr. King's legacy despite the fact that spring semester classes didn't begin until January 23, Occidental scheduled its day of service nearly two weeks after the national holiday, explained Ella Turenne, assistant dean for community engagement. The College's Office of Community Engagement organized the day-long event.
"This is the beauty of the annual MLK Day of Service...we are honoring the great work of Dr. King by forming sustainable relationships with community organizations," Turenne said. "By introducing students to the work being done in the community, they can make connections with what they're learning in the classroom. This often turns into continued action as some return to the sites to serve as interns or volunteers."
While many of the Occidental volunteers—more than 300 students, plus staff, faculty and alumni—labored at public schools, churches, and community centers in Eagle Rock, others worked in Glendale, Pasadena, South Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles, and as far afield as the Wildlife Waystation in Tujunga. Volunteer sites included the Brotherhood Crusade, AIDS Project Los Angeles, Centro Latino Literacy, and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center in Los Angeles; Ronald McDonald House and Door of Hope in Pasadena; and Reach Our Community Kids (ROCK) Center in Eagle Rock. In many cases, volunteers returned to the same sites they supported last year. A $100-per-site budget supported the projects and needed supplies.
"I’m here because I felt like it was a really accessible way to do community service early in the semester, before we have a ton of school work," said Rachel Stober ’15 of Palo Alto, who helped clean up trails and plant native species at the South Pasadena Nature Park in the Arroyo Seco. "It’s a way to give back and to get out into the real world. And it’s fun—we’re all having a good time."
"It’s awesome how many people participated," added her roommate, Savannah Berry ’15 of Healdsburg. "Everyone should do it. Oxy’s so good about establishing that community spirit. I’m not even from here, and I’m excited about helping the Los Angeles community. They make it so easy for us—they give us the bus, they give us food. Next year we all have to do this together."
Raphael Gonzalez from the Los Angeles mayor’s office and Occidental President Jonathan Veitch addressed the volunteers in Thorne Hall at 9 a.m. Saturday. After six hours of work, volunteers returned to campus by 5 p.m. for a community dinner and to reflect on the day's events. The closing ceremony included a documentary of the day's events across the community produced by Occidental film students, a musical performance, and remarks by the campus’ Rev. Susan Young.
"I like being able to meet the different organizations and see how they run things," said Stefanie Davis ’12, site leader at Door of Hope in Pasadena, which provides services to homeless families. Volunteers there cleaned apartments, organized storage units, and cleaned up the basement and playground. "It would be nice if it was more than one day," added Davis, a politics major from Hadley, Mass. who volunteers at Luther Burbank Middle School in Highland Park during the rest of the school year and participated in a Disaster Politics class volunteer trip to New Orleans during winter break.
Supported by its Center for Community Based Learning and the campus-wide Civic Engagement Task Force, service learning has been fully integrated into Occidental's curriculum. Last year, almost half of Occidental students participated in service learning or community service, including 37 service-learning courses offered by 14 academic departments. Occidental has been designated a community engagement institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.