“It never hurts to lend a helping hand,” or get your hands dirty when it comes to assisting others, according to Pablo Portillo, a human services major at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH).
Portillo, a senior who plans to graduate with his bachelor’s degree in spring 2016, is driven by his desire to help others, particularly those from underserved communities. One such opportunity presented itself during the recent “2015 CSUDH Day of Service” in Watts, which was organized by CSUDH’s Center for Service Learning, Internships and Civic Engagement (SLICE).
“I hadn’t done that [landscaping] since I was 9 years old, but I told her [SLICE Director Cheryl McKnight] I could help. She let me take charge and try my best to help make the landscape in front of the fire station look nice,” said Portillo, whose family is in the landscaping business and helped him design, coordinate and plant a drought-tolerant landscape at Los Angeles Fire Station 65 in Watts. “There was a lot of unity among our volunteers and from the community volunteers. It turned out pretty great, if I do say so myself, and everyone seemed proud of our project.”
Portillo will be honored with the Student Civic Engagement Award during California State University, Dominguez Hills’ (CSUDH) Founder’s Dinner on Oct. 8 for his exemplary work through SLICE, Jumpstart and his other community service work. The award recognizes a CSUDH student who has dedicated his or her time to serve the community, and has made a substantive and positive impact in the lives of others through civic engagement and public service.
The Founders’ Dinner, which is part the university’s year-long 50th Anniversary Watts Rebellion Commemoration, will recognize the rebellion by highlighting the university’s role as a catalyst for change in its aftermath, and by honoring those, like Portillo, who have made an impact in the community.
Portillo found much of his inspiration to pursue community service while working in SLICE with McKnight (’01, B.A, anthropology; ’06, M.A., English), Jumpstart coordinator Sergio Pineda, and Miami Gelvezon, an administrative support employee for SLICE who also teaches UNV 395, a course that provides students instruction and training regarding the Jumpstart curriculum.
“Community service has changed me as a person. It has shown me that it’s not about us, it’s about others. What first inspired my passion for community involvement was coming from a low-income, under-resourced community,” said Portillo, a resident of Santa Ana who is the first in his family to attend a four-year university. “There are so many different types of people who can use assistance; those in high school, elementary school, in the community—you name it. Who doesn’t need a little help in their life?”
Through community service Portillo discovered how much people notice and appreciate the things he does. Last semester he worked for the national nonprofit organization Jumpstart as a Community Corps member, which is coordinated on campus by SLICE.
“I worked with children on early childhood development, and I learned the importance of early childhood education and the impact it has on their education and journey into the future,” said Portillo, who completed over 300 hours of service learning through SLICE programs.
Along with Jumpstart, SLICE has helped develop or launch several state and federal government programs at CSUDH, including JusticeCorps, the American Indian Institute, and the annual Native American Pow Wow, as well as a variety of volunteer programs. While at SLICE, Portillo volunteered to work the Pow Wow, as well as supported activities organized when CSUDH and the City of Carson served as a “Host Town” for athletes who competed in the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015 in July.
As part of his field work requirement toward his bachelor’s degree, Portillo is currently working with victims of serious crimes at Nogales Psychological Center. His ultimate goal is to pursue a career in higher education as either a community outreach coordinator or in a management position in external affairs.
“As a career, I’d like to find work that enables me to continue to inspire other students in seeking higher education,” said Portillo, who plans to continue his education at CSUDH in a master’s program and possibly pursue a Ph.D. “I want to inspire them to do whatever they need to do to be happy, and to give back to the community. I want to inspire them to pursue their goals, ambitions, and to never give up.”