More than 1,000 volunteer with Berkeley Project to beautify city

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Wielding shovels, rakes and paintbrushes, more than 1,000 people toiled to beautify Berkeley on Saturday as part of the Berkeley Project’s eighth annual day of citywide volunteering.

The Berkeley Project, a student group founded in 2006, seeks to build a cooperative relationship between the campus and the city and to serve the needs of the community through volunteering. The annual event has grown to include more than 1,600 volunteers working on about 60 projects.

At 8 a.m., participants gathered on Sproul Plaza were roused for the day of volunteering ahead of them. They feasted on breakfast pastries and Peet’s coffee, courtesy of the Berkeley Project; listened to a speech by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks; and enjoyed various entertainment, including a Cal Band performance.

The volunteers then traveled to their work sites, where they spent the day beautifying the community. Volunteers repainted parts of Oxford Elementary School, raked Indian Rock Park and pulled weeds at the Berkeley Rose Garden.

Nikki Panditi, a freshman, helped build a bamboo fence at Spiral Gardens, a sustainable nursery at Sacramento and Oregon streets, with her consulting club, the Bay-Area Environmentally Aware Consulting Network. She said her experience volunteering with the Berkeley Project was rewarding and allowed her to connect with nature.

“I got to feel a part of something larger because I was teaming up with my peers,” Panditi said. “I came home feeling very refreshed.”

Jennifer Yim, the recruiting director for the Berkeley Project, echoed the feeling of contributing to a cause larger than herself. Yim, a junior, said one of her most memorable experiences with the Berkeley Project was standing on Sproul surrounded by more than 1,000 like-minded volunteers during her freshman year.

“We were all there just for one purpose,” Yim said. “I felt empowered. I knew what I was doing was going to make a difference, even before the day started. I was able to look around me and see that the difference had already started, just being there.”

The Berkeley Project raised more than $10,000 in donations for the event from local and corporate sponsors, including the ASUC, AT&T and the Residence Hall Assembly, Yim said. The donations funded transportation, decorations, shirts, fliers, food for volunteers and other supplies.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai voiced support for the event and emphasized the value of the connections it creates, both between the city and the campus and among students themselves.

“I’ve seen all the work that goes into the planning in it,” Mecklai said. “I think it’s a really great way for students and student groups to work together and get involved.”

Gladys Rosario covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @gladysrosario93.