Pepperdine University Step Forward Day

Step Forward Day began in 1988 from the vision of two students who recognized the need for volunteers in the local community and wanted to share their passion for service with their peers. The projects began as small acts of service--repairs on homes of local senior citizens or planting gardens at a local elementary school. 

Today the reach of Step Forward Day includes over 60 community organizations spanning from Ventura County to Downtown Los Angeles as well as alumni chapters across the nation and internationally. During this one day, the Pepperdine community serves a collective 4,200 hours (equivalent of two years work for one person).  It is one of the reasons Pepperdine University has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll four times, twice with Distinction.

Amidst our growth, the founding vision for this event remains true. Step Forward Day is a simple yet significant way for the Pepperdine community to be a neighbor and to participate in our mission and calling. It is a great way to start the year out right, a chance to make new friends, and to prepare oneself to "step forward" for the rest of the year.

Since the events of September 11,2001, our campus tradition took on another layer of meaning.  In the past decade, volunteers have become keenly aware of the significance of their service.  On the fifth anniversary of the attacks, one of our students coordinated a display of flags on our campus, one for each life lost in the tragedy.  Now in its fifth year, this massive display along Pacific Coast Highway attracts guests from miles away who wish to pay respect.  This year students are also hosting a picnic for our local fire and police officers at the flag display.  With the formal establishment of the Day of Service and Remembrance in 2009, participants were thrilled and honored to connect what our school has done with what the rest of the country is doing.

As we prepare for our 23rd year, we expect continued growth and development. Last year a total of ­­­1,371 students, staff, and faculty members participated in the service day from our Malibu campus.  Step Forward Day also reached beyond our campus and included alumni chapters across the nation and internationally as alumni served in Japan and Mexico. Overall, 684 alumni stepped forward in service last year.Since our participation has increased nearly every year, we expect growth again for 2011.  We track participation through online pre-registration coupled with checking-in by name on the day of the event.  We update our database after the event, adding walk-ins and deleting no-shows. 

As of July 27, 2011 the following organizations had committed to partnering with Pepperdine University for Step Forward Day 2011:  Blind Children's Center, Boys & Girls Club of Malibu, Break the Cycle, Daybreak, Faith in Christ Ministries, Food Share, Juan Cabrillo Elementary, LA Dream Center, Malibu United Methodist Church, Malibu Methodist Nursery School, Our Lady of Malibu, Pt. Dume Marine Science Elementary, Standing on Stone, Santa Monica High School, Seaport, Sunrise, United Cerebral Palsy, Webster Elementary, Westside Pregnancy Clinic, World Impact, L.A. Community Garden Council, St. Francis Center, Inner-City Arts, SHARE!, St. Monica Catholic Community, LA Food Bank, Mountains Restoration Trust, Westside Food Bank, Boys and Girls Club of Conejo and Las Virgenes, Boys & Girls Club West Valley, Malibu Senior Citizens Club, Carmelitos Housing Community, Salvation Army - Canoga Park, City of Malibu Parks and Recreation Department, St. Vincent's Meal on Wheels, Grant Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary, Malibu High School, Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, Westside Children's Center, Salvation Army – Silvercrest, Children's Hunger Fund, Mary Magdalene Project, Project Exodus and Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council. 

One of the strengths of the service work we do is that it is driven by the unique needs of the organization.  As we invite community organizations to partner with us, we stress that their needs, their projects, and their goals should drive the work for that day.  Projects for this year include classroom setup, cleaning, painting, gardening, event preparation, trail and beach cleanup, office organization, canvassing the neighborhood to spread awareness, and sorting donations.

In addition to visual and verbal promotion throughout the campus, the students event coordinators will make a presentation during an all-school convocation.  It particularly highlights the connection between Step Forward Day and the National Day of Service. The Pepperdine community is encouraged to notice how our long-standing tradition of service has merged with the national effort toward unity, devotion to our neighbors, and giving back.  We understand that we have been caught up into something bigger than our university alone, and that we now serve alongside thousands of people in our country.

During the event itself, volunteers have three distinct points of commemoration:  a group Send -Off before they board their buses to go serve, a small group discussion during their drive, and a time of reflection at the end of their day. Past reflections include:

  • "By a simple task of mixing dirt and soil for a garden, we helped create a place for the whole community to enjoy."
  • “There’s just something so meaningful about serving through the morning, and then pulling back onto campus to see the massive flag display reminding us of those historic events.  I feel like I worked to promote the best of what our nation represents.”
  • "This experience gave me a chance to find out the value of volunteering. I enjoyed the service and hope that the kids appreciate our efforts."
  • "This day was a chance for me to see the realities of poverty right here in L.A. The openness of the people inspired me to want to reach out more and help these people on a regular basis."

Pepperdine University would be honored to be acknowledged for our day of service through this award.  Yet we are committed to stepping forward yet again to commemorate this tenth anniversary regardless.  It is part of what it means to be a Wave.