A Commitment, A Tradition by Fernando Quintero

For more than a Century, Cal Students have gone beyond the campus to serve those in need. That tradition lives in the commitment of many students to care about others.

In 1895, Berkeley student members of a blossoming service organization called the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) organized the first mentor program in the dusty flatlands of West Berkeley. Through personal friendship the students sought "to inspire the girls with a loftier womanhood and a deeper spiritual life," according to an 1898 YWCA student handbook.

More than a century later, the tradition of public service that began with the University's YWCA and Young Men's Christian Association and continued through the years with such noble efforts as the Peace Corps and President Clinton's Americorps program remains stronger than ever.

Despite media reports that characterize "Generation X" as apathetic and self-absorbed, today's Berkeley student is actively involved in his or her community. A 1994 survey of more than 2,500 Berkeley graduates found that up to two-thirds had performed volunteer work at some point in their undergraduate years.

"Berkeley has an international reputation for public service that it should feel extremely proud of," said Patricia Garamendi,'66, associate director of the Peace Corps. Garamendi is a former Corps volunteer who served with her husband, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Interior John Garamendi, '66, shortly after their graduation.

Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, Berkeley has sent more than 3,000 volunteers--more than any educational institution--to its ranks and on to developing countries.

Cal Corps, a campus resource center for student community service, each year helps more than 3,500 Berkeley students initiate, promote, and operate a wide variety of service programs. These include homelessness prevention services, mentorship and tutorial services, health and dental suitcase clinics, senior citizen outreach programs, and much more.

And there are the myriad clubs, fraternities and sororities, and other student groups that provide volunteer services with often little or no recognition.

"The public service mission of our university is inherent in our teaching and research activities. Our students' commitment to upholding Berkeley's long-held tradition of public service through their continuing volunteer efforts is something that deserves special recognition," said Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien. Last September, Tien committed $1 million to launch the Berkeley Pledge, a statewide effort to revitalize the partnership between the University and California public schools that includes augmenting ongoing local mentorship programs involving Cal students.

Service in the 'early years'
In the fall of 1899, an outbreak of diphtheria in the settlements of West Berkeley put a sudden halt to volunteer work in the area by student YWCA and YMCA members. In November, the associations reorganized, and the students resumed their work with local children. A special 1902 edition of the Blue and Gold yearbook reported that the "West Berkeley College Settlement stood as an integral part of the life and work of the University. ...The settlement aims to be a medium of fellowship and cooperation between the students of the University and the boys and girls of West Berkeley. It hopes by this fellowship to give the students broader and deeper sympathies, and the boys and girls an ambition for high lives and right ideals."

Stiles Hall, which Ann Stiles had built in 1893 in memory of her late husband, Anson Gale Stiles, was used for "the religious and social uses of the University without distinction of creed" and provided a home for the YWCA, YMCA, and other campus groups. Stiles Hall remains an important public service resource center for students as well as faculty and staff.

Although the early years of the University YWCA and YMCA centered mostly around Bible study, the volunteer work by students in West Berkeley at the turn of the century set the stage for development in later years of the organizations' community service programs.

Sharon Betinelli, executive director of the University YWCA, said her association's current mission is one partly shared--and shaped--by UC Berkeley: "Strengthened by diversity, the Association draws together members who strive to create opportunities for women's growth, leadership, and power in order to attain a common vision: peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all people."

Today, the University YWCA still matches area youth with Cal student mentors and runs a number of other student volunteer programs including a volunteer placement center and peer support network. Betinelli believes community service is just as important and relevant to the lives of student volunteers today as it was a century ago when lending a helping hand was an integral part of being a good Christian.

"Volunteering provides students with leadership skills, gives them a first-hand look at a vocation or industry, and offers invaluable connections and networking opportunities," said Betinelli.

Service in the '60s
In the 1960s, Berkeley, it seemed, was at the center of a changing universe. The intellectual ferment that gave rise to the Free Speech Movement also brought about a renewed sense of social responsibility. At Berkeley, the call for students to change the world through community involvement was answered by the thousands.

The Peace Corps, founded by President John F. Kennedy to offer trained men and women to countries in need, had an especially strong appeal for the Berkeley student.

"Berkeley was then and remains a very international campus. I have fond memories of interacting with students from all over the world at International House and in my classes," recalled Patricia Garamendi, who with her husband served as a volunteer teacher and community development worker in a rural village in Ethiopia. "Because at Berkeley we were all at home in the world, such things as 'empowerment' of underprivileged people, 'sustainable development,' 'global economy,' and other buzzwords now being used were all familiar terms to us back then. Then the Peace Corps came along and put into practice all these exciting ideas we were talking about. It seemed like a natural extension of our college education."

Garamendi says the impact of community service on a college student is profound and everlasting. "More than 38,000 children will die each year due to poverty. When you see that first-hand, you are forever changed," she said. "You may think you are a small boat out on a vast sea, but the Peace Corps volunteer comes to realize that one person can make a difference. I know it has shaped everything I've done since."

In 1967, the Community Service Projects program was created by faculty, students, and staff who wanted to have a positive impact in the local community. The program, now known as Cal Corps, provides funding for a number of community service projects and provides students with training on volunteer recruitment and retention, team building, and conflict resolution. In addition, the center also serves as a clearinghouse for service agencies looking for volunteers, and students, faculty, or staff seeking to donate their time.

Some student programs that got their start with the help of Cal Corps have gone on to become full-time service organizations, such as the Berkeley Community Law Center and Break the Cycle, a remedial math and science program based at Malcolm X Elementary School in Oakland.

In 1993, President Clinton inaugurated his newly-created national service program, Americorps. Sixteen Berkeley students were among its first participants. The following year, Berkeley was selected to receive a federal grant to support and augment the campus's various community service efforts, including establishment of the Service-Learning Research and Development Center at the Graduate School of Education. Andy Furco, a doctoral candidate serving as director of the center, said Berkeley is leading the way in the research of service-learning, a teaching strategy that integrates community service into the curriculum.

Fred Colignon, associate professor of city and regional planning who uses service-learning in his teaching, said students become more engaged in their education, develop a deeper grasp of course material, and learn to think more critically about key social issues. "From a faculty perspective, students learn better," Colignon said. "From an overall perspective, they learn to become better citizens."

"I don't think most people are aware of the immense impact community service can have on both the student and the person or group being served," said Alex Lonne, '91, Cal Corps director. "In some ways, it's immeasurable."