When Wei Li, a second-year doctoral student in planning, policy and design, first learned of the devastating earthquake in his native China, he did what any good son would do: He phoned home.

Li’s parents live in Henan Province, 800 miles from the epicenter in Wenchuan County, but they still felt the ground shake. When Li called, his mother had been watching TV and seeing the bodies of the young children who died when their schools collapsed. She sobbed into the phone. That was all it took:

“Hearing my mother cry prompted me to do something,” Li says.

Li immediately began mobilizing a UCI earthquake relief effort. Over the next week, he slept only a few hours a night, working late to quickly organize campus and community fundraisers. He created posters, banners and donation boxes with his friends, and sent e-mails asking for help. Soon he had more than 40 volunteers (see list below), many of them members of Chinese student groups at UCI. He also had invaluable support from Manuel Gómez, vice chancellor of student affairs, and Sherwynn Umali, assistant director of the Cross-Cultural Center; they helped mobilize the campus and procure a site for the fundraiser.

On Thursday and Friday, May 15-16, the relief effort set up a donation booth at the UCI Student Center and collected $23,342. More than 1,000 students, faculty and other campus community members made donations.

“We were so moved by people’s kindness,” Li says. “People would stop and ask us if our families were O.K.”

The donations included a $5,000 gift from Dr. Robert Detrano, professor of radiological sciences and president of the China California Heart Watch (www.chinacal.org), a nonprofit organization that offers treatment and training to stem the rising incidence of hypertension and cardiovascular disease in China’s rural areas. Anteaters for Israel donated a day’s proceeds from their lunch fundraiser on Ring Road.

“The money we raised is great, but we also raised awareness that when people are in need, UCI cares,” Li says.

The group also spent the weekend raising $2,456 at a local church and $5,539 from 99 Ranch Market in Irvine, bringing the total to $31,337, which Li sent to the Red Cross Society of China. (He is still accepting donations: E-mail him atwli3@uci.edu.)

Li worked the booth all four days from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., during a heat wave that sent temperatures into triple digits.

“Every volunteer was a flagpole, standing there in the sun. We worked so hard as a cohesive team,” he says. “Nobody complained about the heat.”

Li also raised more than $3,000 last February for victims of snowstorms in China. His group will hold a candlelight vigil for the quake victims at 7-8 p.m. Sunday, June 1, at the UCI flagpoles. The event will include a performance by the Irvine Young Concert Artists.

“What I’ve learned from this is that people have good hearts,” he says. “They want to do something. They just need encouragement to act.”

Relief effort volunteers:
Xiaofang Chen, Yutian Chen, Wei Chu, Pierre Fuller, Xiaoyan Gui, Li Han, Jingjing Jiang, Jinzhi Lei, Xiaoxu Li, Ling Lin, Pui-Yu Ling, Wei Luo, Xi Meng, Dan Pan, Wenting Pan, Xiang Pan, Yuyu Peng, Doris Su, Siwen Sun, Yicun Sun, Qing Tang, Dong Wang, Minfeng Wang, Wenwen Wang, Yi Wang,  Yuanfeng Wang, Zhiwei Wang, Jia Wen, Di Wu, Min Wu, Ye Xia, Sarah Xie, Wendong Xing, Jingyu Yang, Xiaojing Ye, Meng Yu, Daji Yuan, Yuangang Yuan, Shaonan Zhang, Shunan Zhang, Zheng Zhang, Lei Zhao, Miyuan Zhao, Su Zhao, Chenggang Zhu.