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Friends and Neighbors Service Days celebrate 20 years

by Marla Schevker
USC students paint a wall at 32nd Street/USC MaST High School during a Friends and Neighbors Service Day. (Photo/Marla Schevker)
Photo: USC students paint a wall at 32nd Street/USC MaST High School during a Friends and Neighbors Service Day. (Photo/Marla Schevker)

USC’s Friends and Neighbors Service Days program is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. What began as a once-a-year event during Welcome Week has transformed into a monthly opportunity for civic-minded students to volunteer in the community.

On Oct. 21, approximately 100 students met early to eat breakfast and volunteer for several activities around Los Angeles. There were nine volunteer locations, including 32nd Street/USC MaST High School, where students painted base coats of cardinal and white in preparation for a USC Trojan Marching Band mural.

“USC students want to give back,” said Judi Biggs Garbuio, associate dean of students, who oversees the USC Volunteer Center, part of the Division of Student Affairs. “And Friends and Neighbors Service Day is a very easy way.”

The Service Day started after the infamous 1991 Rodney King incident and subsequent 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

“That was a turning point for the university,” Biggs Garbuio said. “We had a lot more civic-minded USC students because they wanted to be a part of the solution. During Welcome Week, we put on the first Friends and Neighbors Day. Students met community leaders and felt so much more comfortable with the surrounding community.”

The university started offering monthly Friends and Neighbors Service Days because of student interest in the event, which draws 250 to 300 students on average during Welcome Week and 85 to 100 during the other monthly volunteer days.

“It provides them an opportunity to engage with the community and learn more about the resources that are available for USC students,” she said. “You’re now at USC, you should be engaged with this community.”

At the Oct. 21 event, some students had volunteered at Friends and Neighbors Service Days before, while for others, it was the first time.

“This is my first semester studying at USC, and I want to get involved in the campus activities,” said Minghui Zhang, who recently moved to California from China to pursue his Master of Science in electrical engineering. “This is the first time I’ve come to the United States, and I don’t know much about the lifestyle and culture. Friends and Neighbors Day is a very good opportunity to get familiar with different people and different cultures.”

Tiffany Chiu, a sophomore who is majoring in psychology, previously volunteered and came back as a group leader.

“I like how we can see different needs in the community and how we can serve a different one every month,” she said. “I like meeting new people on campus — seeing people with similar passions or people who are so different yet like to serve in the same place.”

The next Friends and Neighbors Service Day will be held on Dec. 1. For more information, visit usc.edu/volunteer

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