‘A multigenerational experience:’ Cal Alumni Day of Service 2019 fosters community, cleans Berkeley Marina

Gracie Malley/File

ix condoms, 10 syringes and needles, 32 shotgun shells, 945 Styrofoam pieces and 5,445 plastic pieces were recently picked up a few miles from campus.

There were four sites of cleanup that took more than four hours to clear. On April 20, more than 200 volunteers picked up thousands of pieces of garbage, including but not limited to the items mentioned before, from the Berkeley Marina. In partnership with the local Shorebird Park Nature Center, the Cal Alumni Association, or CAA, has sponsored this event annually since 2017. The event, also known as the Cal Alumni Day of Service, occurs annually as a means of bringing campus alumni together in a massive marina cleanup effort. Every year, it happens just in time for Earth Day.  

On the day of the event, volunteers young and old flocked to the blue and gold Cal alumni tent run by two co-leads from CAA, Haley Hart and Mara Gendel.

Hart, a member or the class of 2011, was overjoyed to witness the “positive vibes” during the event as well as surprised by the number of volunteers who showed up impromptu. “The turnout has been huge and super good. … We even had a group of Buddhists come in,” she said. A number of student groups, including Cal Habitat for Humanity and Cal in the Capital, also showed up to clean up, help out and have fun.

As always, however, campus alumni and their friends and family comprised the largest demographic at the event.

CAA Associate Director of Alumni Engagement David Smith, who is the lead organizer of the event and is related by blood to more than 150 alumni throughout history, explained that the day was created to honor UC Berkeley’s rich legacy of service. The event, being environmentally minded, also recalls other campus sustainability initiatives such as Zero Waste 2020 and the Cool Campus Challenge.

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Kendall Williams, an alumna who graduated in 2015, helped create and run the event when she worked for CAA during the first two years the organization sponsored it. One of those years, she volunteered alongside her grandfather, who is currently in his late 80s.

 Six condoms, 10 syringes and needles, 32 shotgun shells, 945 Styrofoam pieces and 5,445 plastic pieces were recently picked up a few miles from campus

“We don’t have an age cutoff, so we enjoy a multigenerational experience,” Smith said, recalling that alumni often bring family members and friends to chip in.

Williams recalled that one year, the youngest volunteer was just 3 years old and served as the squad’s cheerleader during the beach cleanup.

The Berkeley Marina and Shorebird Park area often becomes polluted as a result of the runoff from Strawberry Creek, the runoff from the Sacramento Delta and the natural currents and winds from the Golden Gate. “It’s a catch-all for three large sources of pollution,” Smith said.

Though the Berkeley Marina often becomes polluted, the Cal Alumni Day of Service has sparked some serious positive change.

“Everyone should be very proud of themselves for making such a huge dent in marine debris this past Saturday,” said Loren Rasmussen after the event, stating that the volunteers picked up 318 pounds of trash. Rasmussen is the assistant recreation coordinator at Shorebird Park Nature Center.

Not only has the event brought alumni and other Bay Area locals together, it has also led to the rise of beach cleanup volunteer events across the UC system.

“The spirit was to grow not only a local and Berkeley effort, but also to coordinate with our alumni chapters, which we have in more than 90 countries,” Smith said, adding that he hopes all the local communities of campus alumni can pioneer volunteer projects for their towns and cities.

Part of CAA’s success included five Los Angeles chapters that staged their own beach cleanups last year, among other service projects.

Smith, who describes himself as “the guy who picks up five straws a day” so they don’t enter the ecosystem and harm animals, calls the event and other environmental work a labor of love.

Julie Calderon, a graduate from the class of 1994, hopes to model that same mission of love and care for her 10-year-old daughter, Masiela Aguilera. The two, who have already participated in three or four beach cleanups together, had their hands full on April 20. They collected nearly a dozen food wrappers, close to 70 pieces of plastic, 30 pieces of Styrofoam and almost 40 cigarette butts.

Calderon, like many members of the Berkeley community, wants to take care of the local environment and make sure her children grow up environmentally conscious.   

Sitting next to her mother and with tools in hand, Aguilera said she one day hopes to attend UC Berkeley.  

Contact Kristen Hull at [email protected]