New Bruins Send Gratitude to Troops Worldwide

Aug 05, 2010  By Jessica Tang
Courtesy of UCLA Today

Roughly 5,000 U.S. military service members in hostile regions around the world will soon be receiving care packages in the mail containing a little music, Joe Bruin’s favorite apparel and a lot of gratitude, compliments of UCLA’s new freshman class.

An incoming first-year student packages UCLA apparel, an iTunes gift card and a handwritten letter for U.S. military service members.

As a powerful introduction to UCLA’s commitment to volunteerism, incoming first-year students are assembling Bruin care packages destined for U.S. service members that contain UCLA apparel, iTunes gift cards and letters students have written to express their appreciation for the invaluable service these men and women are providing.
“I’m glad to have the opportunity to take part and show my appreciation to the troops since I haven’t had the chance to do so on my own,” said Karen Lively, an incoming comparative literature major, who was part of an assembly line putting together the packages. “It’s a good introduction to service at UCLA, especially in discovering new ways to give back to the community.”
Part of the new student orientation, the program was organized by the UCLA Volunteer Center and UCLA Summer Orientation Program in partnership with Operation Gratitude, a volunteer-run, nonprofit group based in Van Nuys that has sent more than 500,000 care packages to troops all over the world. It is the first time that Operation Gratitude has partnered with a university on this scale, said David Bloome, campaign director for the Volunteer Center.
Following up on last year’s highly successful Volunteer Day in the first week of the fall quarter, the center wanted to expand on ways to instill a culture of volunteerism with students’ very first exposure to UCLA, organizers said. This fall’s Volunteer Day will be held on Sept. 21.
“The volunteer center is bridging different parts of the campus to make an impact as broadly and deeply as possible,” said Antoinette Mongelli, executive director of the center.
Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude, was on hand Aug. 3 as new freshmen formed an assembly line to put together the packets. “It’s a special situation since many of the students are the same age as the service men and women to whom they are writing,” she said. And receiving Bruin apparel “should be entertaining and energizing,” unless, of course, a troop member identifies more strongly with UCLA’s crosstown rival.
Good timing played a role in obtaining $125,000 worth of in-kind gifts. Bloome contacted ASUCLA licensing director Cynthia Holmes who referred him to Campus Drive, a Montana-based apparel company that is a UCLA collegiate licensee.

Jason Davenport, ROTC instructor at UCLA, looks on as freshman write personal letters in hopes of boosting service members' morale.

“It was a miracle — the company just happened to have excess UCLA-branded garments they were looking to donate at the exact time we needed it. The president of Campus Drive, Jeff Selvig, even transported the clothing to ASUCLA for us. His generosity was stunning,” Bloome said. In addition, Apple donated $20 iTunes gift cards to package with the apparel.

During opening ceremonies for this summer’s orientation, Bloome addressed students and sparked their interest in becoming a community of heroes.
While many of the incoming students have already been involved in volunteering at their high schools, Bloome said participating in Operation Gratitude “sets an expectation for new students to be participant citizens, leaders and heroes. It’s a fun part of an overall strategy to build active community volunteerism and turn actions into deeds.”
“Dear U.S. Hero,” one student wrote as an opening. Others wrote about their excitement at being at UCLA and shared their favorite sports and hobbies. “It’s almost like writing to a pen pal for them,” said Edwin Luna, an orientation counselor.
“The notes the students have written seem very detailed and positive,” said Roxanne Neal, director of the UCLA New Student and Transition Programs. “One student even carried around a soccer ball all day just to donate it with his package.”
ROTC members, including Juan Bustamante, an active-duty Marine currently studying geography at UCLA, talked to students about how receiving care packages affected him and other service members. “Mail call is always a good day,” he said. “I’ve gotten Girl Scout cookies and beef jerky in the past, but not clothing. It’s a good motivation for people.”
The three organizations hope to partner again next year, after seeing the impact that personal letters written by UCLA students can bring. Some soldiers don’t get mail, and that might affect their outlook, Blashek said. “Your letters could save someone’s life.”
For more information, see the Volunteer Center’s Orientation website. For more information about Operation Gratitude, see this website.

About Operation Gratitude

Operation Gratitude annually sends 200,000+ care packages to Veterans, First Responders, New Recruits, Wounded Heroes, their Care Givers, and to individually named U.S. service members deployed overseas and their families waiting at home. Each package is filled with food, entertainment, hygiene and hand-made items, as well as personal letters of support. Our mission is to lift the spirits and meet the evolving needs of the Military and First Responder communities, and provide volunteer opportunities for civilians anywhere in America to express their appreciation to all who serve our nation. Each package contains donated product valued between $45 and $100 and costs our organization $15 to assemble and ship. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than 1.6 Million Care Packages.
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