Something About Volunteering: Naomi P. Lichtner

UC Irvine students work hard, study hard and play hard. We pour a lot of energy into studying for exams and writing endless papers. We put the same passion into hanging out with friends and devoting ourselves to various interests. With busy schedules, it is easy to focus on the small scale; ourselves, our assignments, our friends. But some of the greatest educational experiences come when we expand our conscience and reach out to the community. As Anteaters with a huge amount of clubs and campus resources at our fingertips, we are particularly good at that.

This winter break, I joined 13 other undergraduate students on an Alternative Winter Break trip offered through the Cross-Cultural Center. We toured and volunteered at Manzanar, the infamous Relocation Center that housed Japanese Americans during World War II. We also packed up holiday food boxes and kids’ toys at the Inyo Mono Advocates for Community Action (IMACA) food bank in Bishop. In between volunteering and the other adventures of the trip, we stayed in a little motel in the teeny town of Independence. Actually, we practically overran it.

Before we left Irvine, we didn’t really know how fun it would be. Well, at least I didn’t. After a grueling finals schedule, I wasn’t crazy about getting up early on Saturday and driving five hours north to the Owens Valley, which averaged 20 degrees for the week we were there. I am so glad I decided to go for it.

The next day, we woke up bright and early and arrived at Manzanar for a great tour led by a ranger from the National Park Service. Manzanar is now considered a National Historic Site, and though the barracks and buildings are largely gone, it is still eerie and poignantly beautiful. After a quick lunch of turkey sandwiches, we helped out the Service Rangers by picking up cleavers and pitchforks to dig out bushes. We broke into teams of “whackers” and “forkers” to get rid of the bushes so we could preserve the firebreak and protect Manzanar for future generations.

We each got a special water canteen and a commemorative napkin. The real takeaway was what we came to know of ourselves, individually and as a team. We also learned a lot about the locals, past and present.

“I enjoyed meeting interesting people. Since the volunteering is fun but also hard, I feel our ties are strong,” International student Yasufumi Mizuno said.

After the two days of hard work, I realized it was really just fun work and a very therapeutic way to leave fall quarter stress behind. Another plus: we honored the memory of the internees there with our time and labor, as well as honored the local community by preserving its history.

Our next volunteering stop was at IMACA in Bishop. Bundled up in gloves and layers upon layers, we ignored our freezing feet by sorting complete holiday meals into cardboard boxes to feed families in the surrounding communities, many of whom are low-income families. It was really amazing to see the generosity of strangers, and the good in which people are capable.

“Those people we met inspired us to be better people and remind us that there are good people in the world,” senior Alvin Lee said. “When people saw us volunteering, many asked us if asked if we were doing it for a college credit or hours. It was a good feeling to be able to say that we’re doing this because we want to.”

We packed a lot of good deeds and fun times into the one week of our trip, thanks to the planning of the Alternative Break Interns, senior Amanda Coats and sophomore Stella Liu.

“The biggest thing I got out of volunteering was watching the projects I have planned come into reality and seeing everyone really coming together for something bigger than themselves,”  Liu said.

For me, it was incredibly rewarding and gave me wonderful memories for my last year. The hardest part was probably the pre-packing; trying to stuff five sweaters into my backpack wasn’t so easy. I came across the trip simply by walking past a poster on Ring Road. I know from experience that volunteer opportunities are plentiful at UCI. Check out UCI housing, student clubs, honors societies, Greek organizations, ASUCI and Student Life and Leadership — just to name a few. I also know that whatever your interests are, you can find the community service opportunities to match, and the great people to spend your volunteering hours with.