In Los Angeles, volunteers are the heart of the city. You can count on them every day of the year in every corner and culture of the city ready to serve. In times of community building, crisis, problem solving, generosity and celebration I have stood side-by-side with some of the most amazing people I have come across my many years.
People often ask me why I serve and why I value volunteerism. It’s because I believe service plays a critical role as a strategy for social change. More importantly, it’s because I believe that together people can transform communities and the status quo.
As far back as I can remember, volunteerism and justice have been a part of my values and life. From organizing recycling drives for children’s shelters as a youth, to organizing door-to-door to address slum conditions in my neighborhood as an adult, I have taken it upon myself to serve my community.
I learned this from my parents and through our collective action as a family living in the downtown community west of City Hall. No matter what financial or social struggles stood in our way, we always had our apartment door open to support and share with our neighbors.
This was imbedded in me at a very early age; the belief that service is the right thing to do and that change begins with the self.
For over 5 years I’ve had the privilege of serving in Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa’s administration, first as his Associate Director of Neighborhood & Community Services and now as his Chief Service Officer. In both roles I’ve had the honor to meet and partner with everyday people who volunteer their time across the city on many levels.
They are the “moms & pops” who lead community beautification projects; high school and college students assisting immigrants on their pathway to U.S. citizenship; professionals who take time to mentor youth; parents who partner with teachers to build and sustain community gardens in our schools; neighborhood councils who engage in making local government accountable to its residents; local businesses who exemplify corporate responsibility and so many more examples of volunteerism.
It gives me hope that Los Angeles is one of many cities throughout the country that values volunteerism and service. We are proud to be part of “Cities of Service,” a national movement that engages people to find new and innovative ways to harness the power of volunteers to help solve pressing local challenges. Through this effort, Mayor Villaraigosa created “We Serve LA,” a local campaign with strategies to transform volunteerism and service into a powerful tool for civic engagement, community building and social change.
“We Serve LA” provides a shared vision for community involvement and promotes service as a defining characteristic of the culture of Los Angeles. “We Serve LA” starts with building the much-needed infrastructure to expand service opportunities and effectively connect Angelenos to them. It is our intent to make it easier for Angelenos from all walks of life and of every age group to connect with meaningful service opportunities and to make a difference in their City. We aim to create an energetic and positive pathway to take Angelenos who care deeply about the problems we face from individual volunteers to a powerful force for change.
I firmly believe that volunteers are the good conscience and hope that makes Los Angeles a city of service. Volunteers don’t wait for change to happen. Volunteers make that change. I truly believe that without volunteers, there is no movement. What embodies the soul of the movement is the love that people have for Los Angeles and a common belief in citizen and neighborhood empowerment. Los Angeles is a better city because of it!
Rafael González is the Chief Service Officer in Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa’s administration. He is a lifelong Angeleno with over twenty years of experience as a community organizer, advocate and public servant. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more information on Cities of Service go to www.citiesofservice.org.