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As ‘Big’ an ‘Event’ as ever — UND student organization recruiting volunteers for much-anticipated return of city-wide cleanup

The Big Event is coming back to campus and our surrounding communities on May 1

Mark Wiche (top right on roof) of Florence and Roger Syvertson home in Grand Forks. Wiche and a few friends, Chris Brown,(left on roof) Ryan Gorman (washing windows) have been coming back for a few years to help the Syvertsons during The Big Event. Even asking for the couple by name. UND archival photo.

May 1 marks the triumphant return of a UND tradition.

For its 16th year, the Big Event will have teams from the University community providing a spring cleaning boost for Grand Forks.

Donning now-iconic “Do Work” shirts, UND will be raking leaves, washing windows and cleaning the city into the afternoon.

Since 2005, the Big Event has been organized by a student group responsible for enlisting hundreds of UND volunteers – students, staff and faculty – to help hundreds of households and community organizations that reach out to the University for help.

Leaders of the 25-member Big Event Committee are looking forward to being of service, especially after COVID-19 forced last year’s Big Event into the form of a week-long social media campaign. This year, there are public-health precautions in place, but Grand Forks residents will once again be able to see rakes, work gloves and the symbolic shirts on Saturday, May 1, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Members of the UND community can find information on how to register by going to the event’s page on the UND Calendar, or to the registration form directly. Similar information can be found on the Big Event’s Instagram page.

With the high number of projects already lined up, volunteers are welcome, and members of the UND community are encouraged to register until the April 26 deadline.

“We are so excited to bring the Big Event back this year,” said Isaac Balmer, sophomore and co-president of the Big Event Committee. “Hearing from people who missed us last year, who are eager to work with UND students, really pushed us to make this year’s event the greatest we can.”

Kristi Okerlund, director of student involvement and parent programs, also serves as an advisor to the Big Event Committee. As one of the students who first brought the Big Event to UND in the 2000s, Okerlund recognizes the value of giving students the chance to give back to their community.

“For a lot of students, this is a day out of their busy schedules where they can dedicate time to get out and know that they’re helping, whether it’s an individual home or nonprofit organization in our community,” Okerlund said. “It’s also a chance to take a four-hour break from preparing for finals and spending some good time outside with friends.”

To reduce risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, all of 2021’s Big Event projects are taking place outdoors. Larger teams that register will also be split into groups of five, in order to keep worksite densities low, and participants will be asked to wear face coverings if they’re unable to distance themselves from others.

Another difference is that the gathering and staging that typically takes place on the lawn of the Wellness Center will now be handled via a drive-thru-styled pick-up spot for equipment and snack bags.

“Safety is number one,” Okerlund remarked. “For a lot of these groups on campus that have had to meet virtually all year, this is one of their few chances to get together, and we want everyone to be safe while still having fun and making a big difference in Grand Forks.”

Sponsors this year include UND’s Student Organization Funding Agency, the Association of Residence Halls, the Panhellenic and Interfraternity Councils as well as the City of Grand Forks, Ace Hardware, and Deek’s Pizza, which will be providing free pizza coupons to workers.

“Ace Hardware generously donated 1,000 work gloves, really speaking to how the community is supporting us, and for that, I’m very grateful,” said Anna Lambertz, a sophomore and co-president of the committee, alongside Balmer. “They’re helping protect our volunteers as they’re working across Grand Forks, and it only enhances our approach to safety for this year’s Big Event.”

Lambertz went on to agree with Balmer on how much the community reaction to the event’s planning has driven their efforts, despite all of the roadblocks and pandemic-related challenges. Even though their window for project submissions was reduced by a number of weeks, they still garnered hundreds of calls from people across town.

This year is turning out to be as “Big” of an “Event” as ever.

“This year seems to be extra special in that COVID somewhat separated everyone from their community,” Lambertz, a West Fargo native, said. “And if we are able to bring them back in the slightest, with one day where people go out and help others, I think that’s amazing and something I want to put every effort towards.”

Balmer agreed. “I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the volunteers,” he said. “It’s hard for me to comprehend seeing hundreds of students coming together and doing something all at once.

“Being able to come back to school this year gave me hope that the Big Event would be able to happen in-person, and I’m so glad that we’ve been able to work with all of these partners to host something on such a large scale while keeping everyone who participates safe.”