How The Big Event Started at UD

 
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During my first and second year at UD, I participated and later led Alternative Spring Break service trips to Baltimore, Maryland focusing on urban hunger and urban revitalization. On these trips, we focus on having an asset-based mindset, and understanding the socioeconomic context of where we serve. This deep dive into a social issue is something that I craved as a lifelong learner, and connecting it to community service gave me a sense of meaning. I came back to campus invigorated with a sense of passion for service, and became more engaged in my community.  

As I returned to UD, and became more involved on campus, I thought about how much I was actually engaged in the Newark community. Did I know about the assets of the City of Newark? What problems did the Newark community face? What was the city’s history? Who even was the mayor of Newark?

This realization was a shot at my ego. I believed that I had a good grasp on community service endeavors and what it meant to be an active citizen. But how could I be considered an active citizen if I didn’t even know about the town I called home for the past 2 years?

UD students take for granted the many Newark resources they use in their college experience. I found that I lacked a sense of belonging and responsibility to the Newark community to even begin to realize this. While Newark may be home to students for 4 or more years, it is many Newark residents’ actual home. Therefore, as students, we should acknowledge this and be considerate of the community, while having the privilege to live here and obtain an education.

This sense of responsibility to give back to the Newark community is what drove The Big Event to come into existence at the University of Delaware. I had first learned about The Big Event from Matt Creasy, the Assistant Director of the Blue Hens Leadership Program (BHLP). He showed me the Virginia Tech website for The Big Event, after returning from an Alternative Spring Break trip. Virginia Tech, his previous institution, runs the 2nd largest The Big Event in the country. I thought it was an awesome idea - a day of service that would serve as a way to give back to the surrounding community. The Big Event remained in the back of my mind for the next year as a new way to unite the UD and Newark communities. In a Partnership for Healthy Communities Steering Meeting, I shared this idea during a brainstorming session and gained support from the people in the room. I was enthusiastic about the promise of actually creating this student-led day of service. This would culminate all that I have learned and taken from my time here at UD. I immediately went to Matt, saying I would write a proposal to introduce the idea to the Division of Student Life.

By April of 2018, I had written a 35 page proposal that I nervously presented in early May to Kathleen Kerr and Stephanie Chang from the Division of Student Life. They approved the idea and were our 3rd round of supporters behind The Big Event. As the semester came to a close, I was beyond excited to get The Big Event off the ground, as well as find strong student leaders to join my team. I knew there was no way I could do this on my own - this would have to be a movement that inspired other students to be change agents.

During the summer, I recruited inspired student leaders to be a part of the executive board. I was put in contact with the mayor of Newark, Polly Sierer, and other heads of various city departments. Mayor Sierer was an instant supporter of this initiative and helped to provide ideas for what the day of service could look like. Now, with the city’s support and a new team to build, The Big Event was becoming more of a reality! It was an extraordinary feeling (and even a relief) to share The Big Event with others and to see their equally enthusiastic reaction to join the movement. This was something that I had in my mind for so long, and it was gaining real traction.

We are now running full speed ahead towards May 4th for the pilot of The Big Event. We’ve gained new community partners, committee members, and support from UD and Newark. I could not be more grateful for those who believe in what we are trying to do and continue to support The Big Event. My hope is that The Big Event will be a catalyst for student leadership and community engagement, as well as a source of pride for Blue Hens. I envision that the Big Event will be an intersection for diverse student groups to collaborate and take part in a day of service each year. Most of all, I hope that my story of starting The Big Event can serve as an example to students on how they can make a difference with the communities they care about.

I imagine that The Big Event will grow in its size and scope and I believe that this project has potential to go hand-in-hand with UDANCE. UDANCE is the student-led philanthropic service organization whereas The Big Event will be the student-led community service organization. I believe The Big Event can exemplify our commitment to community engagement and stewardship as students and as a university.

As The Big Event mission statement from the founder University at Texas A&M says: “Through service-oriented activities, The Big Event promotes campus and community unity as students come together for one day to express their gratitude for the support from the surrounding community.” By taking the time to give back to those around us, we learn to be increasingly selfless individuals, to sacrifice for the benefit of others, and to leave this world better than we once found it.

By Jaime Renman