Forty-nine first-year students went to the South Central Los Angeles community on Saturday, Sept. 9, for a day of giving back to the Al Wooten Jr. Youth Center, one of two locations for the annual ServeLA program hosted by the Pam Rector Center for Service and Action (CSA). Many students who gathered for the day are also part of this year’s cohort for The Learning Community (TLC), a program committed to the success of first-year students who identify with the Black diaspora.
The Wooten Center has been a longtime partner with CSA and provides a neighborhood approach to revitalizing and empowering a community in crisis. Today, the Wooten Center, housed in six storefront buildings across the street from the center’s original site, provides a safe, nurturing environment committed to good citizenship and academic excellence. These free afterschool and summer programs help students in grades three-12 attain grade-level proficiency and promotion, high school graduation, college and career access, and success.
During the service project, students helped brighten up the Wooten Center by creating a space for the exploration of knowledge in the Library Refresh Project and igniting a brighter world by revitalizing a mural in the center’s backyard and the Wooten Community garden with fresh vegetables, herbs, and flowers for children in the program to enjoy.
Emahny Harris ’27, originally from Chino Hills, spent a lot of time volunteering in her community in high school, but she knew that service was a significant part of being in the LMU community. “The LMU community, for me, is based around helping people, and I wanted to be a part of that mission,” said Harris. “It’s about giving back and helping others, which I wanted to get involved with on campus. For me, coming to this center, learning about its history, and hearing about the impact this place has had on the community, for a small moment in time, what we have done here today helps us be part of that story.”
Nicholas Taylor ’27, a marketing major from Virginia, said “I like giving back to my community. Back in my hometown, I was involved in many leadership and community service activities, and in my heart, that felt like a good thing to be a part of knowing it would go back to someone who is in need.”
International students like Taramisore-Oluwa Awosile ’27, originally from London, wanted to give back to the community and have the opportunity to experience different parts of Los Angeles for the first time. “I worked with others to help touch up the mural on the wall, and this was a great way to give back to a community I am learning more about,” said Awosile.
For Daveon Swan, associate director of community and academic engagement at CSA, the experience highlighted being in service for and with them. “We had the chance to do this service work alongside parents and youth from the center and in a community where I grew up, which makes it feel like it’s part of my story, too,” said Swan.
The Wooten Center was born out of tragedy: In January 1989, Alton “Dunnie” Wooten Jr., 35, was killed in a drive-by shooting near Adams and Crenshaw in South Central Los Angeles, a murder said to be the result of a gang initiation. Drive-by shootings were at a height when Wooten was killed. Community members started programs like “Taking Back Our Community” and “Mothers Against Gangs in Communities” to stop the violence. “Gang sweeps” by police and stricter penalties for youth offenders also emerged. But Wooten’s mother felt that the solutions only angered already rebellious youth.
“What they need is love and attention,” said Myrtle Faye Rumph. “They need to stay busy. They need to have more confidence. They need to have their attitudes changed. If somebody had taken more time with the person who killed my son, maybe my son would still be alive.”
The Pam Rector Center for Service and Action at LMU offers students and graduates various opportunities to volunteer their time serving those disadvantaged or oppressed. Service opportunities are available on campus, locally in the L.A. area, and abroad through dedicated service groups or special events.