Genesis Osuna gave up her entire Saturday morning to assemble bicycles to be donated to area foster care children.
For the 19-year-old Cal State Fullerton freshman, her participation in the 3rd annual Love Fullerton service day was personal.
Osuna understands just how important those 50 new bikes would be to the children receiving them: a way to get to a job or school on time and have a bit more freedom.
“These bikes are going to make a huge difference,” said Osuna, who lived in foster care from 12 to 18. “It feels amazing to be able to help, to give back, in such a personal way.”
On Saturday, April 30, nearly 3,000 residents and friends participated in “Love Fullerton,” the city’s annual service day. They painted area schools, cleaned up parks, sang to seniors in nursing homes, picked up trash in vacant lots and even washed dirty police cars.
All told, volunteers took part in about 80 projects, “spreading love throughout the city of Fullerton, in every corner,” said Jay Williams, director of the nonprofit OC United and event co-organizer.
Chief Dan Hughes of the Fullerton Police Department called Love Fullerton, which he cofounded with Williams, his favorite day of the year. The Fullerton native and Sunny Hills High School graduate said about 60 members of the department donated their time to give back to the community that has given them so much.
“I’m just so proud of our city,” said Hughes, who during the event visited several project sites to thank volunteers. “These people are the best our city has to offer. Our churches, nonprofits, businesses, politicians and schools are out here providing services to people they don’t even know just to make things better.”
For the first time, neighboring cities participated.
Brea, Buena Park, La Habra, Placentia and the west district of Anaheim held their own “Love” city events at the same time. Across northern Orange County, an estimated 9,000 people participated.
City leaders from Huntington Beach, Orange and other nearby municipalities attended Love Fullerton to watch and learn in the hope of adding a similar special day to their municipalities in the future.
Love Fullerton began at 8 a.m. with volunteers assembling downtown to pick up complimentary light-blue “I Love Fullerton” T-shirts, along with breakfast burritos, yogurt and bananas. The early hour notwithstanding, people seemed genuinely excited, easily mixing with one another and meeting their project team members.
Looking around at the multi-generational, multi-ethnic crowd, Peter Kling said he felt joyous.
“I’m astounded that so many people, especially young people, want to reach out and serve their community,” said Kling, pastor of Amazing Grace Ministries and leader of a 150-member group that visited local board and care and nursing homes. “It’s wonderful.”
Seventh-grader Juliana Hodgson, a Girl Scout with Troop 101, said she came to Love Fullerton because, “I love to help people.”
After breakfast, participants made their way to their projects.
Sarah Blake and her family joined other volunteers to wash police cars at Fullerton PD headquarters. Blake, owner of Cupcake Blake, came with her husband, James, a teacher, and their three children, 13-year-old Jude, 12-year-old Jonah and Sophia, 8.
“We think there are amazing benefits to serving the city,” Sarah Blake said. “I personally love seeing people connect and care about each other.”
Added her son, Jonah, a 6th grader at Rolling Hills Elementary School: “It’s going to be fun cleaning their cars. I’m excited to help.”
A few blocks away in the city’s Richman neighborhood, more than 100 members of Sunburst Youth Academy weeded two vacant lots that had become eyesores.
“You guys out here cleaning up these fields bring dignity and honor to the people of this neighborhood,” Fullerton Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald said.
Over the past three years, she added, Love Fullerton has saved city taxpayers an estimated $650,000.
At Sunny Hills High School, 27-year-old Lee Humerian and other volunteers prepped metal support poles that dot the campus for painting. [Another group repainted the school’s fading yellow and red curbs.]
Humerian, a drummer with the Christian metal band Phinehas and a member of EV Free Church of Fullerton, said residents’ commitment to improving the city touched him.
“The fact that all these people are willing to give up part of their day to help others is inspiring,” he said.
The Central Valley city of Modesto began Love Modesto in 2009, becoming the first municipality in the state to hold such a massive all-city volunteer day. Hughes and Williams, both deeply committed to civic engagement and improvement, trekked to Modesto to learn more about its successful service day.
In 2014, the two organized Love Fullerton, the first city in Orange County to hold a “Love” city event. About 2,000 people came out to donate blood, remove park graffiti and spruce up area schools, among many other projects. The following year, 3,000 volunteers showed up.
On Saturday, participants gathered at Fullerton College at noon after completing their work. Together, they celebrated all they had accomplished together, sharing good conversation and good food, provided for free by local businesses.
Amanda Roth believes that she and others made a difference. The 30-year-old director of international student ministries at EV Free Church spent her morning at Acacia Elementary School.
“The kids will come back Monday and see that their school is a little bit cleaner, a little bit brighter,” Roth said. “They’ll know that people served them and care about them.”