What is it exactly that Bruin Belles Service Association does? That’s a tough question to answer simply. Of course, we help with philanthropy events in Los Angeles, from volunteering with Meals on Wheels to helping out with extravagant galas to getting our hands dirty as we tend to endangered plants on campus. But I’ve often found it difficult to describe Belles in a way that isn’t just listing all of the activities that we do in the community and on campus. It wasn’t until I heard Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, speak at a Campus Culture event a couple weeks ago that I got a better idea of how to understand what Belles does as an organization and, more specifically, what it means to me to be a Bruin Belle. When asked about what it feels like to help communities ridden with gang violence, Father Boyle responded humbly that he in no way set out to “help” anyone. If anything, he explained, he aspired to be helped and to learn from other people. He told countless stories of times he had learned from former gang members and others in his organization, and made it clear that he never set out to “save” or “help” anyone living in the margins of society. His philosophy was that philanthropy is about learning from others who come from different situations. In that moment, I had a new perspective on why Bruin Belles means so much to me. It’s not about setting out to change any lives, or even about selflessly helping people; it’s about learning from each other and from the people with whom we work. Every time we go to volunteer, we learn something new about how people overcome their own struggles and we have the opportunity to act on what we have learned.
His talk made me think of my time volunteering with Reading to Kids last year, where I witnessed hundreds of kids who yearned to learn and improve their reading skills enough to spend their Saturday mornings at school. I learned from them that sometimes, when the system isn’t working in your favor (whether it’s due to lack of funding for your education or burdens in your community that interfere with your opportunities), you have to take the initiative to make it better yourself. His talk made me think of Play Day, where I saw an extremely talented elementary school girl beat every high school boy on the opposing team in soccer. I learned to never underestimate the quiet ones. His talk made me think of the Lips monologue written by our very own Lexi, which taught me that not everyone’s experience of womanhood is the same. Most of all, his talk made me think of the Women and Waffles event last quarter, where I learned that I was surrounded with incredible people who were consistently teaching me and inspiring me to become a stronger person. I’ve found that whether we are out in the community volunteering or even just on each other’s couches discussing politics over waffles, Bruin Belles gives me the opportunity to learn from people who know so much more than I do. For that reason, Belles has provided me with not only a fantastic group of friends, but also a strong network of mentors who inspire me to continue challenging myself and hearing other people’s stories. I’m excited to keep learning.
Fourth Year Bruin Belle