When Ariana Antonio sees the weary faces of homeless people, she’s reminded how lucky she is to have a warm house and enough food on the table. And she wants to help others have those same simple things.
Life hasn’t always been easy for Antonio’s family. She was a small girl in Mexico when her father immigrated to the U.S. He found work and eventually started a successful construction business, but in those early days, the family struggled.
Memories of those hard times have inspired Antonio, now a fourth-year social ecology student at UCI, to participate in a variety of humanitarian and environmental efforts.
“It’s made me recognize how lucky we are. And it’s made me think: ‘How can I give back to those who don’t have these things? Where can I offer my services?’”
She found answers through UCI’s Center for Service in Action. Formerly the Volunteer Center, it provides opportunities for students to volunteer in the community and learn about civic responsibility. The Center for Service in Action, which recently moved into the new student center, will hold its annual Have-a-Heart Volunteer Fair 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, on Ring Road. Local agencies and community service groups will share information about volunteer and internship positions at UCI and in Orange County.
“We provide opportunities for students to conduct service and learn about ways they can make a positive impact in the community,” says Darlene Esparza, the center’s acting director. “Ariana embodies many of the values we hold to be true. She’s looking to build partnerships with the community.”
Antonio interns for the center’s Alternative Break program, in which students skip their usual fun-filled vacations to lend others a hand. She went to Catalina and Saguaro National Park in Arizona to work on environmental projects, maintaining trails and planting vegetation. This year, the center will expand the program, offering service opportunities for both winter and spring break.
Antonio also volunteers for SHOUT, Students for Homeless Outreach United Together, which has made her sensitive to the plight of people on the street.
“Some people have the mentality that homeless people are dirty and lazy, that all they do is sit on the street asking for spare change,” she says. “But the reality is that each day these individuals fight against being homeless. Many live in their cars, trying to maintain their dignity while they struggle to survive.”
She belongs to the UCI chapter of Women and Youth Supporting Each Other, in which college students mentor eighth-grade girls. As a WYSE site director, she organizes events for Portola Middle School in Orange.
Antonio’s not sure what she’ll do after she graduates – perhaps join the Peace Corps or work abroad for a nonprofit – but she says the Center for Service in Action has helped prepare her for life after college.
“The center has taught me about time management, how to work with a diverse group of people, and most importantly, it’s given me the opportunity to build a relationship with our community,” she says. “It’s changed my whole college experience.”