It is days before the Big Event and Huskers Lee Kenny and Alex Nachreiner are proverbial ducks on a pond.
Calm on the surface, a flurry of activity awaits as the student co-chairs make the final push in organizing the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s largest student-run community service project. Their leadership, magnified through 95 other student leaders, will allow more than 2,500 student, faculty and staff volunteers to lend a hand at 238 sites across Lincoln on April 6.
“Everything is hitting the peak for us and it is a hectic time as we get closer to Saturday,” said Nachreiner, a four-year Big Event volunteer and senior accounting major. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been totally worth it. This is one of the most rewarding projects on campus.”
Now in its 13th year at Nebraska, the Big Event started in 1982 at Texas A&M University. The event — which has become the largest, single-day, student-run community service project in the nation — is a way for college campuses to give back and make direct improvements in the communities that support them. Big Event volunteers complete a variety of service projects throughout the day, ranging from neighborhood cleanups and painting homes to serving meals to the elderly and assisting with school events.
“For us, the impact made by Big Event volunteers is huge,” said Michelle Crandall, a parent-teacher organization volunteer with Lincoln’s Campbell Elementary School. “Every year, they assist with our school carnival, running games, bounce houses, the concession stand and other activities.
“Because of the student volunteers, our parents get to enjoy the event alongside their kids. It’s really just a great day that we couldn’t pull off without assistance from the Big Event.”
The Campbell Elementary carnival is traditionally the largest in terms of volunteers requested. This year, 75 sorority sisters from Gamma Phi Beta will assist with the event.
“Big Event organizers make it so easy,” Crandall said. “All we do is send a request online and students show up ready to work on the day of our carnival.”
That seamless level of coordination is achieved through hours of preparation by student leaders.
Supported by the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, Big Event organization is led by annual co-chairs who guide a 20-member executive team and the operations staff which includes 75-plus student volunteers.
Kenny and Nachreiner started as the 2019 Big Event co-chairs in April 2018 and each has accumulated 250-plus hours organizing the outreach project. Executive team leaders have each logged an average of more than 100 hours prep work, serving in a variety of roles ranging from duties as day-of event coordinator and recruiting volunteers, to finding sponsors and marketing the event.
One of the biggest time investments is the approval/denial of site applications. The student volunteers review each of the multi-page applications, visiting the sites and asking necessary questions regarding need for assistance, assuring that the site is safe, and determining the scope of work to be completed.
“Each member of our operations staff and executive leadership team reviews two or three applications,” said Kenny, a third-year Big Event volunteer who is a double major in English and psychology. “It’s time-consuming. But, it’s an important step that helps us determine what kind of jobs people will be doing and what tools are going to be needed.”
Nearly 80 percent of the 238 Big Event sites are “repeat customers” from the previous year.
“During my freshman year, I visited an elderly lady who requested assistance because she couldn’t do some yard work after the death of her husband,” Nachreiner said. “I could barely fill out the paperwork because she was so thankful and gave me some freshly baked cookies.
“That’s when I realized the importance of this project and how it can make big impacts on the lives of individuals. It’s all about helping people.”
Nachreiner and Lee agreed that the experience will benefit them as they prepare for future careers.
“It’s definitely been a growing experience in terms of organization and leadership skills for us,” Lee said. “Those lessons will help us after graduation. Right now, though, it’s about making sure the final details for this Big Event come together and make hundreds and hundreds of positive impacts across Lincoln.”
Nachreiner said those positive outcomes validate the hours of Big Event prep work that have been completed behind scenes.
“Lincoln has become a home away from home for many of us,” Nachreiner said. “This is our chance to come together and give back, to say thank you to the entire community.”