Students Pitch In for Friends and Neighbors Day
“Service is part of being a Trojan,” said Melissa Gaeke, director of the Volunteer Center at USC.
Dozens of USC students put her words into action when they gathered early at Alumni House on Jan. 23 for Friends and Neighbors Day. Organized by the Volunteer Center, the event sends USC volunteers to nearby organizations to connect the university with the surrounding community.
“When the Volunteer Center was created, it was envisioned that there should be an opportunity to bring staff, faculty and students out to work in our local nonprofits,” Gaeke said.
Downing coffee and donuts for fuel, participants met with team leaders to discuss the day’s projects and objectives. A while later, the groups dispersed to their respective agencies, including the Downtown Women’s Shelter, the L.A. Regional Food Bank and the Blazers Learning Center, among others.
Brandon Knechtle, a junior majoring in civil engineering and one of the group leaders, brought 14 volunteers to a local preschool for beautification. He explained the day’s tasks to the group, which included dusting and sterilizing classrooms, washing outside tables and planting vegetables.
“We have broccoli, lettuce, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and flowers,” he said with a smile. “We’re planting them so the kids can see how they grow. That’s the part I’m looking forward to.”
Knechtle had a personal investment in the beautification project — he also works at the preschool as a volunteer coordinator for Jumpstart, a national early childhood education program. He saw Friends and Neighbors Day as an opportunity to add a new dimension to his work at the school.
Although spearheading the project was challenging, it was also rewarding.
“You never realize how much work it actually is until you’re in the middle of it,” he said. “But because you put so much into it, you get that much more out of it.”