Students volunteer at UCLA CORE

Mejo Liao

Eleven students volunteered at the Power of Hope Gala in support of the CORE Kidney Program Oct. 22. Held at the newly-constructed UCLA Wasserman Football center, students met doctors, patients and celebrities supporting advancements in nephrology.

Ryan Pinsker ’23, who said his family knows the organizers of the Gala well, recruited student volunteers for the Gala by sending out a form via Community Council. Hosted by the UCLA Clinical Excellence Outreach and Education (CORE) Kidney Program under the direction of Dr. Anjay Rastogi, Clinical Chief of Nephrology at UCLA, the Gala aims to raise awareness and funds for research in kidney disease, future kidney transplants and a kidney center at UCLA. Volunteers catered, ushered and photographed guests for six hours at the event, earning twelve service hours in return.

Pinsker said he is proud of the volunteers who were rigorously devoted and enthusiastic.

“Each volunteer was sharp, quick on their feet, and laser-focused for the entire 6 hours of the gala,” Pinsker said. “It was a magnificent feat that most people can’t pull off.”

Lead Ambassador Marc Coronel, who recently underwent a kidney transplant after fighting Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) for eight years, said the event was meant to both educate and support those struggling with kidney disease.

“Our main hope is to allow [people] to gain an opportunity to understand what kidney disease is, what it does, and how much of a silent killer it really is,” Coronel said. “The thing about illnesses is you don’t know who it hits. I think we as humans need to relate to people, and that’s something [the Gala] hoped to achieve.”

Volunteer photographer Sophia Bakhtiari ’25 said she enjoyed the warm atmosphere at the Gala, which encouraged vulnerability and bonding.

“I loved seeing the interactions and smiles of everyone,” Bakhtiari said. “Especially the donors and recipients we talked to. They seemed so happy to be there and were very open.”

The event included live performances, the ability to interact with sponsors of the organization and a silent auction. Guest celebrities also attended to support the event, including NFL players, composer Paul Williams and rock band “Poison” guitarist, C.C. DeVille, who auctioned off an autographed guitar for $9 thousand. Among the celebrity performances was DeVille’s son, Vallon DeVille, and his band “The Finz”.

Lead vocalist and lead guitarist of “The Finz” Jason Barber said the meaning of his contribution to the event shifted from a performance to a chance to endorse, support and learn about nephrology.

“Walking in, my band just thought it was another gig, but throughout the night [our purpose] reached so much deeper,” Barber said. “This entire event turned out to be such a great learning experience, especially for people who went without prior exposure to the disease, and we felt we had more of a role than just entertainers. Walking away from the event, every single member of [my band] had a smile on their face and it felt like we served a bigger service in supporting and learning from [the UCLA CORE program].”

Similarly, Bakhtiari said the stories she heard at the Gala would stay with and inspire her for a long time.

“This one person I met told us that he used to be a boxer but found out he had a kidney disease on his birthday and had two years of dialysis and just got a transplant,” Bakhtiari said. “Now he’s recovering and advocating for everyone and I thought it was so moving.”

Barber said he has a close family friend in need of a kidney transplant, and the event proved pivotal to helping him achieve a better knowledge of what they were going through.

“Nobody focuses on kidney disease. Nobody talks about kidney disease,” Barber said. “I knew nothing about [kidney disease] going in, and spending time with [attendees] it really hit home, just listening first-hand what it’s done to people, and how intense it was. I had no idea the grip it could hold on your life. I met someone whose doctors told him he wouldn’t live very long at all, and he had to spend most of his time in the hospital. And he beat the disease, came back, and spoke that night. That was so powerful to me.”

Coronel, who worked with a handful of the volunteers, said he was glad to have played a role in informing students about kidney disease.

“I thought it was amazing,” Coronel said. “Some of these students came in as photographers but as they sat down with people they were able to learn a lot. And to work with these volunteers, my job as a Lead Ambassador was met, because now we’re informing the students who came in from Harvard-Westlake what kidney disease is about.”

Pinsker said he attributes the Gala’s success to the students’ engagement and assures there will be more opportunities to come.

“[The Power of Hope] gala was a wonderful night of advocacy, music and hope, none of which would have been possible without our wonderful HW volunteers,” Pinsker said. “We plan on hosting more galas in the future, and there will be a plethora of other opportunities for HW students to engage with the UCLA CORE kidney program.”