All Together Now: FLEX Community Engagement Day
Volunteering is new to freshman Emmanuel Akosah, but not for long.
He is considering gardening at a women’s shelter. Or perhaps helping children learn to read.
“Being able to help people is our main focus, and it’s such a good feeling,” said Akosah, a computer engineering major from West Covina. He participated in the Third Annual First Year La Verne Experience (FLEX) Community Engagement Day on August 23.
The event is the embodiment of the four core values of the University’s mission statement: Ethical Reasoning, Diversity and Inclusivity, Community and Civic Engagement, and Lifelong Learning.
University President Devorah Lieberman celebrated the students’ efforts.
“This day represents who we are. You are at a university that lives its mission,” she said. “This is the beginning of not only your next four years, but the rest of your life.”
Thirty FLEX groups comprised of 500 students, 30 Orientation Week Leaders, and more than 35 administrators, faculty, and staff from various academic disciplines united to work on a wide variety of volunteer projects, allowing students to go from theory to practice, and then follow up in an academic setting once their classes begin.
Adam Plax, a sophomore studying business accounting, had such a great FLEX experience during his freshman year that he returned as an Orientation Week Leader.
“My original FLEX team and I are still very close,” he said. “The engaging conversations we had with each other and with our professors made all of our classes that much better.”
Participants chose from 14 volunteer sites. Vice President of University Advancement Myra Garcia selected conservation work at the San Gabriel Mountain Regional Conservancy for her team.
“Many of the trails would not exist if it weren’t for volunteers maintaining them, and since this is also a day with the students, it’s a win-win.” Garcia said.
Volunteers went to Hope Gardens, Union Rescue Mission, Constantine Gardens, Sowing Seeds for Life, Bluebird Ranch and Colby Trailhead, Amy’s Farm, Ethan’s Farm, Prototypes Women’s Center, City Link, Boys and Girls Club of Pomona Valley, David & Margaret Youth and Family Service, Hillcrest Homes, and La Verne Church of the Brethren.
Delma Johnson, a two-year resident of Hillcrest, sat with fellow residents under the shade of tents while students soaped and rinsed the resident’s cars.
“I’ve always washed my own car, but now I have a shoulder injury and can’t do it. This is great!” Johnson said.
While many individuals and organizations benefitted from the mass of volunteers, the students gained a great deal from the day as well.
“I’m enjoying all of the new people that I’m meeting, want to get to know their backgrounds and hear more of their interesting stories,” said freshman theater student Carlos Hernandez.
The FLEX program reinforces that people can do good in the world and affect change. It encourages knowledge gained inside as well as outside of the classroom.
While cleaning the grounds at Prototypes Women’s Center in Pomona, student conversation spontaneously turned toward discussing economic theory.
Economics Professor Kevin Marshall, his hands balancing gardening rakes and tools, answered students questions about scarcity, marginal benefit and marginal cost as he worked with them and fellow FLEX professors Cathy Irwin and Richard Rose. The trio of professors united for their third year to form one of 30 FLEX teams.
Lauren Crumbaker, a junior and first time OWL, enjoyed all aspects of the orientation program, from the days leading up to it to the actual day of service.
“I’ve had a lot of fun and have learned so much about myself and others, said Crumbaker.