Alarms rang before 7 a.m. Saturday morning as students prepared to participate in Pepperdine’s annual Step Forward Day. Volunteers flooded the Smothers Theatre parking lot, where they checked in with their respective groups for a day of volunteering across LA and Ventura Counties.
This year, 1,350 volunteers signed up, forming 85 groups that went to serve 67 organizations, according to an email from senior Annie Averill, the special events director for the Pepperdine Volunteer Center.
“I am always up for a good challenge, so it was kind of one of those ‘why not’ things,” Averill said. “I would have to say it has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in college,” she said.
Averill’s role includes organizing all of the one-time service events, such as the blood drives, the Salvation Army shopping spree and senior prom. Averill said she has gladly taken on this leadership role, and has been greatly rewarded by the experience.
Senior Sarah Hamilton volunteered with the Pi Beta Phi sorority this year.
“I loved the opportunity to work with my hands, playing in the dirt with fellow Pepperdine students as we helped an organization that is so passionate about their work in the community,” she said.
Hamilton’s group volunteered at the LA Community Garden in North Hollywood, where they helped with composting, weeding and completing other garden tasks. Hamilton has participated in Step Forward Day three times during her years at Pepperdine.
Other various volunteer groups included athletic teams, freshman houses, on-campus clubs and Greek groups, as well as faculty and alumni chapters.
Places of service included LA community gardens, schools, churches and many nonprofit and social justice organizations, such as the Dream Center, Villa Esperanza, Bethany Christian School, the Marion & John E. Anderson Youth Center, the Downtown Women’s Center and others.
According to their website, the PVC’s ongoing vision is that “Step Forward Day is a simple yet significant way for the Pepperdine community to be a neighbor and to participate in our mission and calling.”
The first school-wide Step Forward Day occurred in 1989, when 150 students ventured out to five sites in Malibu to serve. Now Step Forward Day reaches out to serve more than 75 community organizations, offering a combined 4,500 hours of service.
Hamilton said a significant number of students participate each year because of their genuine desire to serve the greater community.
“I think Step Forward Day is so popular because our school is filled with people who genuinely want to give back to the community,” she said. “It’s a tradition that our student body wants to continue for many years to come.”
Senior Scott Mason said he shared the same view.
“When we decided that we wanted to come to Pepperdine, we knew that Pepperdine’s mission statement included inspiring people towards lives of service, purpose and leadership,” he said. “I think it’s just a culture at Pepperdine and where students come from that makes people want to come out and participate in Step Forward Day.”
Mason served at the Glendale Community Garden, where he and his group helped clean up and water the plots of land.
In an email, Justin Schneider, the assistant director of the PVC, wrote about the significance of this event.
“Step Forward Day brings the university together like no other event,” he wrote. “It is a day where all five schools, alumni all over the country, and faculty, staff and families get to acknowledge George Pepperdine’s vision through action rather than lip service. But the thing I love the most is that this is just one day among many where Waves show who they are to the world around us.”
Students gathered together before leaving campus to take a symbolic step forward to represent their collective promise to continue service together throughout the year.
Averill said her favorite part of Step Forward Day is hearing about the incredible experiences had by the individual groups.
“I like talking to students to hear about their SFD experience and what they saw, because there are so many organizations across LA and Ventura [Counties] that work so hard for social justice and community service,” she said. “Some of the things I hear, I had no idea that the organizations do such incredible things.”
Junior Kayla Martin, the Hunger and Homelessness coordinator and Skid Row specialist of the PVC, also helped organize the day. Some of her responsibilities at the PVC include taking students to Skid Row on volunteer trips and connecting with various homeless shelters and missions to see what their greatest areas of need are.
“I am very passionate about people that are marginalized by society, and I think it’s important that people are aware of the poverty in our community,” Martin said.
Martin also said part of the mission of Step Forward Day is to educate people on the opportunities to volunteer.
“It’s nice to show people that there are ways to help and that there are things you can do about it,” she said.
Follow Rachel Littauer on Twitter: @rachellitt23