Make A Difference Day

On 5/20, this year’s Make a Difference Day was a success! Caltech Y Student Leadership coordinated 9 different projects ranging from community service to ecosystem preservation and gathered 65 volunteers! MAD Day teams split up to volunteer at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, Eco Urban Gardens, LA Arboretum, LA Food Bank, Ronald McDonald House, Union Station, US Forest Service - Eaton Young, and the Young Legends program.

On the morning of MAD Day, volunteers are driven to their assigned site from the Y on campus, sometimes working with people they know, but more often than not, with new people they haven’t met before! After volunteering at a site for a few hours, every participant gets a T-Shirt to commemorate their work, as well as lunch and boba (or some other treat).

Albert Kyi (ChE ’23, Avery), the outgoing Caltech Y Excomm President, helped Co-Lead the Union Station site with Tiba Hamza (ChE ‘24, Venerable). He recounted staying at the Y for most of the day to help coordinate logistics, and later taking part in the Union Station Homeless Services volunteer site. There, Kyi and Hamza were responsible for “finding recipes and buying ingredients to serve an entire meal (dinner in our case)” the evening before MAD Day (5/19). On the day of, their team of six “made burritos to serve the folks living at Union Station”.

Rupa Kurinchi-Vendhan (CS ‘24, Venerable), the current Caltech Y Excomm president, oversaw two MAD Day sites, including Project Linus and Young Legends.

Volunteers for Project Linus were given the opportunity to help “crocheted squares that were sewn together to create a larger quilt and had the chance to speak with volunteers with the organization to learn more about how they contribute!”

On the same day on campus, Rupa’s team also hosted the Young Legends program: “We gave tours and science talks to a group of empowered students in the Pasadena Unified School District.”

Joseph Kim (CNS/En ‘24, Lloyd), a member of the Caltech Y Excomm, was the leader of the Eco-Urban Gardens project, which led a de-weeding effort in a community garden. According to Kim, Community Work is important for two main reasons: helping others and helping oneself. Good faith labor and community service are “irreplaceable”. For example, senior centers will always need volunteers, and so will food drives. The act of volunteering to benefit a local community not only helps those in the “neediest circumstances”, but also connects the volunteers to their community.

“It’s easy to get lost in the bubble that is Caltech,” Kim laments. “It serves as an invaluable educational experience to understand people from different backgrounds, see the different facets of our community and society, and learn transferable skills (e.g., cooking, gardening).” For Joe, having grown up with an ethos that promoted helping others and leaving a positive impact on the world is what has shaped his motivation to lead volunteer work. “Part of life to me is to make life a little brighter for myself and everyone around me. And community work is an integral part of that.” Similarly, Albert Kyi has always viewed his time at Caltech to be “in preparation of using science to benefit others”. However, recalling that, “It’s easy to forget that there are easier and more direct ways to help out folks. Helping out at places like Union Station is very grounding and keeps things in perspective, especially when things get stressful and hectic at Caltech. I think especially because the Caltech population is privileged but is also centered in a city with great inequity, that it’s valuable to volunteer locally.”

MAD Day is “usually organized in the same way year-to-year, where students are organized into multiple groups and get a chance to volunteer in a variety of ways” noted Rupa. Categories of volunteer projects often include labor, outdoor activities, working with kids, as well as visitations. In the past, the Caltech Y Excomm has organized volunteering projects with organizations such as Union Station, Ronald McDonald House, the LA Arboretum, and the Boys and Girls Club, similar to this year. “Our volunteers do such a great job that we’re encouraged to come back in the following years!”

Through Make a Difference Day and so many more service activities like Rise Tutoring, policy activism, and outdoor events, the Caltech Y is one of the central sources of student outreach at Caltech. According to Kyi, the Y is integral in complementing a lot of aspects of college life that aren’t particularly prevalent or naturally active on campus, acting almost as a “Great Equalizer.”