Volunteers give back

    Lending their hands and opening their hearts, volunteers including UCSD students, staff and organizations collaborated on April 26 for Hands on San Diego, an effort to improve and unite the San Diego community.

    Kenrick Leung

    Hands on San Diego is an annual event that gives the UCSD community a chance to participate in a variety of volunteer projects. The goal of Hands on San Diego is to inspire the UCSD and San Diego community to become more involved in local social services and to gain a better understanding of the community issues that affect everyone.

    Because the event is only a one-day commitment, students are given the chance to break away from the busy schedule of classes and work and simply give back to the community they live in.

    “”Since students and other members of the UCSD community can become quite busy during the week, Hands on San Diego is a chance for them to take only one day to give back and make that connection with the community,”” said Volunteer Connection staff member Emily Lee.

    Each year since 1991, a diversity of projects is organized for each event to give participants a chance to choose the issue or project they wish to work on.

    “”There are always many diverse opportunities for the students and staff members of UCSD to participate in,”” said special projects director Jannet Olague.

    Some opportunities Olague spoke of for this year were a track meet for Special Olympics and the Rainbow Organic Gardens, which provided the opportunity for volunteers to participate as hosts and hostesses for a group of cancer patients in a farm tour and an organic luncheon. Another event was put on by Habitat for Humanity to construct a building on Van Dyke Street.

    The variety of projects helps participants find something they will enjoy doing.

    “”A lot of people are discouraged from volunteering many times because they feel obligated to make a whole year or quarter commitment to something that they may not enjoy,”” Lee said. “”Hands on San Diego is only one day, plus they get to choose whichever project fits their interests.””

    Along with the chance to help the community, participants often discover other benefits to volunteering.

    “”Many things can be gained from participating, like a feeling of gratification, a new friend or a new perspective of the world around you,”” Olague said. “”It can be a fun distraction from midterms or a newfound passion. And an added bonus is that Hands On is so much fun!””

    Fun as it may be, Hands on San Diego is not an event that comes with little preparation.

    “”We had to divide the work into four committees,”” Olague said. “”Agencies [committee] contacted community agencies, Donations [committee] collected donated food, Publicity [committee] spread the word, and Entertainment [committee] organized the entertainment and the keynote speaker. The entire Volunteer Connection office is involved in this process, so it hasn’t been a one-man show. There were few problems, and if anything, working together has been a high point since it’s almost the end of the year and we have all come to be very good friends with one another.””

    As head of the project, Olague herself gained valuable lessons from participating.

    “”I realized what my limitations are, improved my communication skills by at least 50 percent, and if there were ever any ounce of shyness in me, it is now gone. I also realized the meaning of teamwork,”” she said.

    This one-day event also gives participants a chance to become committed to a cause for a longer period of time.

    “”Since this event brings out so many different agencies, participants have the chance to find one they want to become committed to. They can then later contact these community agencies and ask for ways they can continue to help,”” Lee said.

    Hands on San Diego not only brings together the UCSD community, but also the entire San Diego community.

    “”We always get a large number of participants,”” Olague said. “”Resident advisers tend to participate with their residents, and UCSD clubs participate with their members. We usually have San Diego Rescue Mission, Western Service Workers, San Diego Graffiti Control, Fraternity House, San Diego Food Bank, San Diego Audubon Society, San Diego Children’s Museum and many more agencies like these participating.””

    In addition to the projects, Hands on San Diego also features other notable events such as a keynote speaker before the departure for projects and a barbecue and entertainment after the projects. This year’s keynote speaker was Michael Schudson, Director of UCSD Civic Collaborative.

    Judging from previous years, Hands on San Diego has proven to be a success.

    “”Looking at notes from what other directors before me have written, I can say that it has been a very gratifying experience for both the volunteers and the staff members. The volunteers seem to like the projects a lot and always come back with fun stories about their projects. If we do get complaints, it’s usually concerning lack of suntan lotion,”” Olague said.

    Hands on San Diego gives back to the community and at the same time gives something back to the volunteers.

    “”This event helped me remember why I love people so much,”” Olague said. “”Books can only take one so far. The rest has to be taught by one’s own experiences.””

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