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UCLA volunteers fan out across city

About 4,600 university students, faculty and staff -- including Chancellor Gene Block -- painted public school classrooms, cleaned beaches and worked at the veterans hospital and cemetery.

September 23, 2009|Larry Gordon

Brush in hand, UCLA junior Jacob Castaneda was hard at work Tuesday, spreading a fresh coat of brown paint on the exterior of a classroom bungalow at Samuel Gompers Middle School.

He was among an army of about 4,600 UCLA volunteers who came to the South Los Angeles campus and seven other spots around the region for a day of community service.

"It's always nice to reach out to the community and it's always great to help out kids," said Castaneda, a Mid-City resident who recently transferred to UCLA from Santa Monica College. "We need to take the time to give a hand to kids who are without."

In what UCLA officials hope will become an annual event, Volunteer Day brought fresh paint, trash removal and gardening help to five public schools, as well as to Griffith Park, Point Dume State Beach and the veterans hospital and cemetery on the city's Westside. About a hundred buses ferried the UCLA students and faculty to those sites, with transportation costs and other expenses covered by a $250,000 grant from the Entertainment Industry Foundation.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, who has said he wants the university's students, administrators and professors to engage more deeply with the surrounding city, joined in the painting at Gompers.

Wearing jeans and a UCLA T-shirt, Block said that, along with excellent research and teaching, top public universities need to have "a sense of volunteerism and a sense of public duty." He was delighted with Tuesday's turnout.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a UCLA alumnus, stopped by and took a brief turn standing on a ladder and painting. "We wanted to give the young people of UCLA here a sense of connectedness to their community and give the young people at Gompers an opportunity to see what the future could look like, that they too could go to UCLA," he said.

During the five-hour event, UCLA students and staffers cleaned beaches, repaired hiking trails at parks and helped maintain graves at the veterans cemetery. At Gompers, a 1,500-student campus on East 112th Street, nearly 600 UCLA students turned beige buildings into more colorful two-tone facilities with brown paint on the lower portions.

Volunteer Shuchita Vandra, a UCLA junior from Fremont, Calif., said university students should not take their college experience for granted.

"With such a tremendous privilege, we should definitely use our education and resources for good," said Vandra, who is a pre-nursing student. "Why not benefit the community around us?"

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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