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UCOP volunteers prepare ASCEND Elementary School for the new school year

First there were the 20 bags of school supplies generously donated by UCOP staff – pencils, markers, staplers, folders and so much more.

Then there were the boxes (and boxes) of books to be sorted, clothing hooks to be hung, furniture to be assembled, classroom banners to be created – and so very much more.

The list of what needed to be done to prepare Oakland’s ASCEND Elementary School for the new school year filled several typed pages. But on Friday, Aug. 19, the ASCEND teachers and 19 volunteers from UCOP powered through it in a morning, energized by a little secret about volunteering: It’s a lot of fun.

“I really enjoyed the camaraderie we had as a group. I enjoyed getting to know colleagues from different departments,” said Berni Fitzsimmons about the community service event, which was co-sponsored by The Office of the President, Professional Community (OPPC) and Asian-Pacific Islander Staff Association (APISA-OP).

Khatira Nawabi of Academic Personnel and Programs felt the same way. “I enjoyed coming together with UCOP colleagues, both those I’ve just met and those I’ve worked with before, for a good cause such as this one. The energy was positive and comforting.” And then there was the fact that “the teachers really appreciated our help!”

“I think the best part was knowing you were helping the teachers and the students,” agreed Fitzsimmons, who works in the Business Resource Center (BRC). “Teachers are tasked with such a big responsibility by having charge over young minds. They should be paid as a CEO would.”

For Tracy FitzGerald, who works in Marketing Communications, these events are not only a way to give to the community but also to experience community. “I really enjoyed the fact that I was able to meet people who work at UCOP that I would not have otherwise met.”

From decorating doors to arranging desks to painting banners, all tasks were cheerfully embraced by the volunteers. Being assigned to organize stacks of books was the perfect fit for Student Affairs staffer Nina Costales. “I LOVE children’s books,” she enthused. “It was so heartening to see the types of books that are available for the students to read [including] classic Caldecott and Newbery Medal winners. I wanted to sit down and read them just like one of the little kids.”

For volunteer Sam Davis, that familiar back-to-school feeling wasn’t just about childhood. “I used to work in the Oakland schools so I was moved to be back in a school and helping out,” he said. “The energy of the teachers and their focus on preparing for a new year was infectious, and I was glad to do some of the tasks that they were running out of time to do. One teacher told us, ‘I was planning to come in over the weekend to organize those books so it’s a big relief to see it done!’”

Some teachers admitted they hadn’t quite realized how much needed to be done until the group from UCOP arrived and pitched in. The volunteers were rewarded with effusive thanks and even hugs from the teachers for their hard work. “We extend a big thank you to you and your team for being here. It gave teachers a great deal of stress relief before the first day,” said ASCEND Assistant Principal Jeffrey Embleton after the event.

“Each learning journey begins with a single step,” read a classroom banner that the volunteers created, while another sign simply said “Do Your Best.” By taking those ideas to heart, the UCOP volunteers made sure that the ASCEND students could start their school year in a cheerful environment primed for learning.


UCOP staff who volunteered at the ASCEND event:

Jill Butler, Director, Constituent Partnerships, External Relations
Kay Francesca Coelho, School Services Associate, Diversity and Engagement
Nina Costales, High School Articulation Analyst, Student Affairs
Sam Davis, Quality Assurance Analyst, ITS
Tracy FitzGerald, Traffic Coordinator, Marketing Communications
Berni Fitzsimmons, Senior Event Planner, BRC
Stella Gonzales, Work Management Center Assistant, BASC
Allison Hill, Administrative Assistant, Risk Services
Jan Kehoe, BRC Assistant, BRC
Paul Lechner, Senior Event Planner, BRC
Aymen Manai, Programmer Analyst, ITS
Elizabeth McWhorter, High School Articulation Analyst, Student Affairs
Charleen Mininfield, Administrative Assistant, Research Policy Analysis and Coordination
Khatira Nawabi, Executive Assistant to Vice Provost, Academic Personnel and Programs
Addison Peterson, High School Articulation Coordinator, Student Affairs
Venice Tamplin, Legal Support Specialist, OGC
Benjamin Tsai, Senior Tax Analyst, Payroll Coordination and Tax Services
Mike Zelaya, Mail Processor, Facilities Administration

If you’d like to learn more about OPPC (including its upcoming volunteer events), join the group at a website launch community gathering that it is hosting:

DATE: Thursday, Sept. 8
TIME: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
LOCATION: Lost & Found, 2040 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland.

Want to help out? The next community service event sponsored by OPPC is scheduled for:

DATE: Friday, Sept. 23
TIME: 12 to 4 p.m.
LOCATION: Emerson Childhood Development Center, 4801 Lawton Ave., Oakland

Keep in mind that President Napolitano has approved four hours per month for UCOP employees to volunteer, provided that they receive prior approval from supervisors. So please take advantage of this opportunity to commune with your colleagues while making a difference in the Oakland community!

If you have questions about OPPC or these events, please contact Kay Francesca Coelho at


APISA-OP promotes and enhances the well-being of Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander staff at UCOP.

OPPC seeks to promote greater community awareness and participation of UCOP staff by cross-collaborating with other UCOP affinity groups, establishing and maintaining community relationships with the city of Oakland, and performing other outreach activities in the Bay Area. OPPC also hosts community gatherings to foster strong communication and connections among UCOP employees.


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