‘Do work’ — they did

Festive atmosphere greets 900 volunteers — mainly students, but also including faculty and staff — for this year’s Big Event community service effort

UND student Ryan Gorman (washing windows) has been coming back for a few years to help the Grand Forks residents Florence and Roger Syvertsons during The Big Event. Gorman and fellow students, Chris Brown (left on roof) and Mark Wiche, make sure they ask for the Syvertsons by name when signing up for the Big Event. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

UND student Ryan Gorman (washing windows) has been coming back for a few years to help Grand Forks residents Florence and Roger Syvertson during The Big Event. Gorman and fellow students, Chris Brown (left on roof) and Mark Wiche, make sure they ask for the Syvertsons by name when signing up for the Big Event. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

“Do work.” For years volunteers in UND’s Big Event have sported T-shirts with that slogan as they headed out into the community to assist in a wide variety of jobs. It’s work they did with smiles and appreciation.

The Big Event is the largest annual same-day community service event offered by University people on behalf of the Greater Grand Forks community. These volunteers go out to private homes, churches, non-profit organizations and other units in need of a helping hand.

It’s UND’s way of saying thanks.

“When we first started The Big Event at UND, one of our goals was to connect our students with organizations and individuals in our community,” said Kristi Okerlund, event advisor and UND’s coordinator of parent programs and signature events. “UND is their home, and the Greater Grand Forks community is their community, even if it’s just for the four years they are in college. Helping students make connections with community members strengthens that bond.”

 

UND students Braxton Aldridge hands skates down from the "shoe" room" upstairs in Grand Forks' downtown Fire Hall Theater, as part of The Big Event on Saturday, April 29. Photo by Jackie Lorents.

UND student Braxton Aldridge (right) hands skates to fellow UND student Taylor Nyborg in the “shoe room” upstairs in Grand Forks’ downtown Fire Hall Theatre, as part of The Big Event on Saturday, April 29. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

T-shirts and doughnuts

It was a festive atmosphere as 900 volunteers — mainly students, but also including faculty and staff — arrived at UND’s Wellness Center Saturday morning, April 29. Weather conditions were picture-perfect: sunny, cool but pleasant, and with gentle breezes. Well before the 9:30 kickoff, participants were chatting and forming long lines before the registration tables. Members of the Association of Residence Halls handed out donuts.

Many were volunteering as groups, including fraternities and sororities, UND athletic teams, and 80 student organizations. As they signed up, volunteers got a “do work” T-shirt (this year, in sky blue) and some goodies to sustain them through their tasks, including water bottles, granola bars and bananas. Then it was on to pick up rakes, shovels, shears, cleaning supplies, or other items as needed.

For many participants, the assignment was helping to clean up the leftovers of the long winter season. There were lawns and gardens to rake out, branches and blown-in pieces of trash to pick up, and lots and lots of windows to clean.

Mark Wiche and Trent Bohan made their third consecutive trip to the Grand Forks home of Roger and Florence Syvertson. Along with students Chris Brown and Ryan Gorman, they cleaned out gutters, washed windows, and worked on the garden.

“It’s a good opportunity to be able to come out here every spring and help out,” said Wiche, a biology major from Bismarck. “We’ve got to know him (Roger) really well. We spend four or five hours with him. He sits outside with us and kind of directs us in what we’re doing.”

The Big Event 2017

About 900 students showed up at 150 job sites around Greater Grand Forks on Saturday, April 29, for the annual community service effort known as The Big Event. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

15o job sites

Wiche hopes to be admitted to UND’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences in the future; if so, another spring visit to the Syvertsons will be in store: “Hopefully, we’ll be able to come back and take right up where we left off.”

Other Big Event participants took on different tasks. At St. Joseph’s Thrift Store, they were stocking shelves and rearranging inventory in the back of the shop, hauling out recyclable materials, and cleaning up the parking lot.

Over at the Fire Hall Theatre, the assignment was fun and occasionally puzzling: sorting out garments and related items in the crowded costume room. It was often a moment of discovery and amusement when an unfamiliar garment or prop was pulled out.

Overall, volunteers went to 150 job sites in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. These ranged from the communities’ heritage centers to churches, schools, day care centers, nursing homes, and the private residences of elderly citizens.

With the return of warm weather, The Big Event heralds the quickly approaching end of the University’s spring semester. UND held its first Big Event in 2005, and thousands of volunteers have turned out over the years. The Big Event was initiated by members of the Student Government Association at Texas A&M University in 1982 as a way to express thanks to the local community. Since then, The Big Event has been taken up by colleges, universities, high schools and middle schools across the nation.

 

–Richard Larson, UND Today staff writer