Hundreds of members of the UCLA School of Law community participated in the law school’s inaugural Public Service Challenge, which took place over five days, from Oct. 30 through Nov. 3, and served a great number of voters, charitable groups and others in Southern California.
Created by UCLA Law’s Office of Public Interest Programs, the challenge encouraged UCLA Law students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends and families to vote or volunteer as poll workers, do election protection work or engage in other pro bono or public service opportunities. To support the challenge, the school did not hold classes on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Roughly 300 people participated in the challenge, whose star-studded launch celebration took place online on Oct. 26. It featured the LA Sparks, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs and more. Several brief viral videos supporting the challenge were also shared on social media and elsewhere during the event.
“We are so proud of the tremendous work and support of the UCLA Law community,” says Associate Dean of Public Interest Law Brad Sears, who helped lead the effort. “Our inaugural challenge benefitted countless people in California – and underscored UCLA Law’s long tradition of public service.”
UCLA Law volunteers participated in any of five areas: election protection or voting rights; El Centro clinics (for UCLA Law students only); opportunities with UCLA Law programs, centers and clinics; pro bono work with L.A.’s legal services organizations; and non-law-related public service engagements.
Alton Wang ’22 spent four days doing election-protection work with California Common Cause. At the organization’s headquarters, Wang handled calls from hundreds of poll monitors who were contenting with various issues at voting centers across five counties.
“Even in places like Southern California, voters may experience challenges exercising their right to vote on Election Day,” Wang says. “The Public Service Challenge and having the day off on Election Day allowed me to work in election protection and ensure that voters could access the ballot box and work to resolve issues that came up at polling locations across our region. I was able to work with our team to directly help voters that may have been facing long lines, trouble accessing the ballot or intimidation at the polls.”
Elsewhere, students Justin Breck ’22, Theo Caretto ’22 and Kate Johnstone ’21 joined several law school staff members at the Fremont Wellness Center and Community Garden in South Los Angeles, where they cleared and raked a fruit tree orchard, wheelbarrowed and spread mulch, pulled weeds and harvested several buckets of limes and pomegranates.
“The high school students that usually tend the garden have not been able to regularly do that work because of COVID-19,” says Johnstone. “In a time of massive uncertainty at the national level, it was gratifying to work in the garden and make a difference at the local level.”
Caretto and Breck simply relished the opportunity to put down their law books, be outdoors and lend a hand. “Volunteering in the community garden was the highlight of my semester,” says Caretto. “The garden was beautiful, and it was really nice to take a break from classes to get outside and spend some time with some UCLA Law colleagues.”