Every year in August, the town of Laramie, Wyo grows in size by about 10,000 people. Students from all around the United States and even the world come to Laramie to attend school at the University of Wyoming. The residents of Laramie, who were used to an entire summer of peace, have to deal with the large influx of people.
Year after year, the residents welcome the students back to Laramie, and some even lend a helping hand in any way they can. Yet all the giving to the students has gone unrewarded in some ways – but not this year.
This year, the UW Service, Leadership, and Community Engagement (SLCE) office has decided it is time for the UW community to give back to Laramie by holding a one-day event of community service called “The Big Event.”
The Big Event started at Texas A&M in 1982. According to the Texas A&M website, the event was started by the former vice president of the student government association Joe Nussbaum.
The website explains that the event was started “as a way for students to say thank you to the surrounding community.” The event has since been adopted at more than 75 institutions across the US.
According to the website, the mission of The Big Event is to “promote campus and community unity as students come together for one day to express their gratitude for the support from the surrounding community.” In 2013, over 17,500 students volunteered at about 1,650 different job sites.
The Big Event comes to Wyoming
The idea began in June of 2013, when the SLCE office hired their student coordinator for volunteer programs Molly Markow. Markow decided that she wanted to put on a large service event for the community, and brought the idea to her supervisor and volunteer program coordinator Sagan Hunsaker.
“Molly told me that she wanted to put together this project,” Hunsaker said. “We decided to research the idea and found out that other campuses had been putting on similar projects called ‘The Big Event’ all across the country.”
Hunsaker and Markow then got in contact with Texas A&M to find out how the event was organized and decided that UW could also put on The Big Event in the little town of Laramie. However, there was a small roadblock that prevented them from starting: no budget.
Markow decided to contact local businesses to pitch the idea to them, and slowly businesses started to donate to the cause. As the money came in, SLCE began to advertise in newspapers, by radio and created posters and a unique logo.
“Businesses really got behind the idea,” Markow said. “They saw that there was a chance to bring the university and Laramie communities together into one great community.”
The next step was to put together a committee made up of advisers of student organizations all across campus. The committee got to work planning the logistics of the event such as who could apply for assistance, how to get students to volunteer and how best to market the service day.
Once the planning had been completed, it was time to start spreading the word. The SLCE office, members of Fraternity and Sorority Life and students in the Campus Activities Center began to canvas the neighborhood. The students walked streets all over the community and placed door hangers on each house, advertising for residents to apply for assistance from students.
“I get more and more excited to create lasting connections between students and community members, and foster a sense of community between UW and Laramie,” Markow said. “Residents aren’t always keen on the university, and we have had a positive reaction from residents about trying to bring together the greater Laramie community, UW included.”
One big day. One big thanks.
As the news began to spread about The Big Event, a small handful of students got excited about the chance to give back. SLCE decided that students could volunteer as a group, or volunteer individually. Dan Sabirzyanov, a senior in molecular biology and member of student organizations such as Alpha Epsilon Delta and Cardinal Key was excited to sign up.
“We are constantly asking residents to assist our organizations through fundraisers and events,” Sabirzyanov said. “I thought that it would be a really great idea to be able to give back to the community who has helped us in so many ways.”
Student workers in the Wyoming Union were also some of the first to sign up as volunteers.
“The community is supportive with our events asking them to donate clothing or canned food,” Markow said. “I think that we collectively decided that it was our turn to donate our time as a huge ‘thanks’ to the community.”
Two weeks until the event
Today, the SLCE office has received slightly fewer than 50 applications from the community, ranging from jobs such as painting to yard work, and even some cleaning. For pre-registration, the SLCE office has 15 groups of students registered for the event as well as almost 30 individual students.
Hunsaker said that she is very pleased with the number of pre-registrations, but expects to see many more students arrive to register on the day of the event.
“I am most excited to see the interaction between students and community members,” Hunsaker said. “too often studetns are not connected with the community outside of campus, and being abe to give back to the community is going to be very exciting.”
The Big Event is Saturday Oct. 5, with registration beginning at 8 a.m. Student volunteers will arrive at work sites at 9 a.m., and return to UW at 12 p.m. for a community barbecue.