When Francisco Valenzuela volunteered at shelters for women and children displaced by domestic abuse, he was dismayed to learn that certain personal items, like socks and underwear, were in limited supply.
This was his call to action.
The UNLV student organized a sock and underwear drive through his student organization to help the mothers and children served by The Shade Tree of Las Vegas, a nonprofit organization that provides safe shelter to homeless and abused women and children in crisis.
Valenzuela, along with other members of the UNLV Pre-dental Society, collected 2,638 new pairs of socks and underwear in 2018, the first year of the drive. This number grew to more than 4,000 by the end of 2019, and he hopes to further increase the number of items to 5,000 or more next year.
For his efforts, he was recently recognized as the 2020 recipient of UNLV’s Student Service Award, presented by the office of community engagement.
Also as a result of the drive, Valenzuela was able to introduce The Shade Tree to dozens of other student and alumni groups associated with UNLV, enabling them to build relationships and expand their list of volunteers.
“As humanitarian chair for the UNLV Pre-Dental Society, my main responsibility was to establish relationships between nonprofit organizations and our UNLV community,” he said. “My focus while managing relationships was to build a mutually beneficial environment that serves to promote community empowerment and enhance members’ life skills by enabling them to experience different perspectives.”
Valenzuela, who is majoring in biology and minoring in business, also has volunteered at a variety of other area nonprofits, including the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, Three Square, Assistance League, the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada.
“Francisco’s enthusiasm for helping those in need is contagious, as he often motivates his peers to help him carry out his ideas,” said Alison Sloat, associate professor-in-residence in the UNLV College of Sciences.
She noted that through his organization, he established a partnership and program with the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Nevada as well.
“In spring 2019, Francisco organized other undergraduate College of Sciences students who volunteered their time four times a month as homework helpers,” she added.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed. As a previous senior clubhouse director for Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada, Mike Mota saw firsthand the amount of sheer perseverance that Valenzuela and his peers gave to their volunteer work.
“As a dedicated and knowledgeable student and an all-around great person, I know that he will be a great selection and recipient of the award,” Mota said in his letter of support for Valenzuela’s application for the award.
Valenzuela said he is determined to keep the drive going for many years to come, while spreading awareness of those less fortunate in our community.
He added the next sock and underwear drive is being planned for this fall.
The UNLV office of community engagement established four universitywide awards in 2016 to recognize campus individuals for their exceptional community engagement in the areas of service-learning, community-based research, faculty/staff community outreach, and student service.