Lending a Helping Hand

Seventeen volunteers gathered in front of the Orange County Rescue Mission’s Village of Hope in Tustin on the chilly, overcast morning of Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011 eagerly anticipating the hours they were to volunteer doing maintenance work on the facilities. They were about to participate in the UC Irvine Staff Assembly Community Relations Committee’s latest day of service.

Three Village of Hope residents, Robert, Joe and Eddie, came out to the curbside where the volunteers had gathered, and introduced themselves and the facility, which is a two-year rehabilitation center. Residents spend their first six months doing landscaping and maintenance work on the facilities after which they are free to find work in the community and start saving money for their eventual move out.

“We’re trying to develop our own event days and give back directly to UCI,” said Diane Dunn, Community Relations Committee Interim Chair who coordinated Saturday’s event. “We would like to offer one event per month for staff, but we are more focused on quality versus quantity and plan to start building relationships with organizations as well as outreaching and partnering with other UCI entities along with providing staff volunteer opportunities.”

The volunteers split up into two groups, the first group went to an on- site playground where they raked up and turned over the packed- down woodchips on the ground. The old, graey hangars at the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin loomed in the distance against the cloudy sky. A few chickens, pigs and goats paced around the petting zoo just beside the playground, and some children ran down the covered corridors by the apartments on the second level. The second volunteer group went to a little hillside along Red Hill Avenue where they raked up fallen leaves, removed a few weeds and pulled dead leaves from the tiger lilies.

“It’s been really fun,” said Tracy Brown of the Pathology Department at UCI Medical Center. “I volunteered at the last food bank opportunity. I enjoy being outside. It’s a really great program and it’s been nice meeting people from different campus departments.”

When the Community Relations Committee was founded last September, many people were focused on all of the negativity surrounding the public higher education system in California as well as the economy as a whole. Andrea Wiley, Department Manager of Developmental and Cell Biology, was involved in the planning stages and formed the committee with the intention to promote the importance of public service to better thair lives, and of others in the community. As word of the Committee spread over the past year, staff members from all across UCI’s various departments participated in the events.

“I found out through Diane,” said UCI Office of Information Technology Business Assistant, Deborah Ahlheim. “My first event was at Village of Hope in Tustin and the second was at Relay for Life at UCI. I’m one who’s always wanted to volunteer but didn’t know the avenues to do it. Volunteering gives me satisfaction. It gets your out of your own bubble … I think it’s great that they’ve established this outreach because the University is so diverse. To utilize the University’s resources and give back to the community is great.”

Today the Community Relations Committee is looking to expand its membership. Interim Chair, Dunn who will co-chair the Committee with Wiley starting in December, noted that they are looking for additional members who can help with coordinating events, researching volunteer opportunities in the community and at UCI, taking pictures at events, etc. Information is available through the committee’s website http://www.staffassembly.uci.edu/Committees/CommunityRelations. The Committee hopes to expand its membership and inform all university staff on the availability of events throughout the year, which range from doing maintenance work at Hope Village to helping at Relay for Life at UCI.

“Volunteering is something I believe in, and it’s cool,” said Doug Lawrence, Electronics Technician at the Office of Information Technology. “The first event I attended was at the OC Food Bank. It was extremely positive. It was nice to meet people from different areas of UCI volunteering in common. It gives you a good feeling and lets you know there’s a lot of people who are interested in volunteering — a common bond. These events bring more of a community mindset to your work. To my mind it was much different than say a staff picnic. It was separate from work. This enriches you to the core instead of coming out of your pocket. It’s important that students know that UCI’s not just a school. Here at the University it’s a step above a job. You really have a sense that you’re doing something good for the University and for the community.”