More than 400 Lopers participate in annual service project

More than 400 Lopers participate in annual service project
Christian Student Fellowship members pull weeds at Kearney Area Animal Shelter on Saturday as part of The Big Event, an annual community service project led by UNK students. (Photo by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)
April 22nd, 2024 | UNK Communications - Tyler Ellyson

KEARNEY – Kelcie Burke was a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Kearney when she participated in her first Big Event.

That was five years ago.

Now, she’s a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in early childhood education. And she’s still part of the annual community service project.

“It’s always so much fun to get to be with your organization outside a school setting while giving back to a community that does so much for us,” the McCook native said. “A lot of college towns, they don’t appreciate when the students are around. But in Kearney, the community is always so excited when school starts in the fall. They’re excited to see us and they’re always willing to give us opportunities – jobs, volunteer hours, anything we need.”

This support doesn’t go unnoticed. Guided by the motto “One Big Day, One Big Thanks,” UNK students from a variety of campus organizations, academic programs and athletic teams come together each year to show their appreciation by volunteering at job sites across the Kearney area.

Burke and other members of the Graduate Student Association spent Saturday morning at Kearney Jubilee Center, where they helped stock the food pantry and organized donations for the thrift store.

Cheri Clark, the nonprofit’s executive director, is always happy to host Lopers during The Big Event.

“I think it’s really impressive that this many students take a Saturday to come out and do something to help,” she said. “They always arrive eager and ready to go, because they want to be here. That says a lot about their desire to do something positive and give back to this community.”

More than 400 students spread out across nearly 80 locations for this year’s event. They assisted community organizations, churches and individuals in a variety of ways, from yardwork, spring cleaning and trash pick-up to painting and construction.

“This event really shows the heart of the students, how willing they are to help and serve the community,” said Jashna Samuel, a UNK junior studying biology with a health science emphasis. “The community has been supportive of UNK since its very beginning, and this is our way of saying thank you to the people of Kearney.”

Launched here in 2006, The Big Event is the university’s largest single-day service project. It’s organized by UNK Student Government, and Samuel oversaw the planning and execution as secretary of community relations.

She was joined by UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen and Kearney Mayor Stan Clouse during the kickoff rally at Cope Stadium. Both men were attending their final Big Event.

Clouse, who’s leaving the city council to run for state Legislature, thanked the students gathered in the grandstands and encouraged them to continue serving their communities after graduation.

“I have to tell you that we appreciate everything that you do,” he said. “ … This is so important because you’re making lives better for others.”

Kristensen is retiring at the end of the academic year after 22 years as UNK chancellor.

“The community looks at the campus and their image of the campus is you,” he told the students. “You come from all over the state of Nebraska, you come from a number of states, and this morning you’re going to give back to the community that you live in. That makes a huge difference.”

In addition to service, The Big Event promotes unity by bringing campus and community members together.

This relationship-building was on full display at a residence along East 27th Street, where Francine Janzen greeted her guests with fresh-made cinnamon rolls. She signed up for The Big Event for the first time, in need of assistance with several projects on her property.

“It’s not easy when you’re a widow and you don’t have someone to do those things that you shouldn’t be doing in your late 70s,” Janzen explained.

Senior lecturer Becky Hermance and sophomores Maddy Ingold and Sam Patrick from the interior and product design program gave her a hand by completing some yardwork, cleaning the gutters and clearing some household clutter. Janzen called it a “wonderful” experience.

“It’s really neat to see the good that students are doing,” she said, “because there’s a lot of need out there.”

For Burke, who represents the College of Education on the UNK Graduate Council, those interactions are what make The Big Event special.

“My favorite part is that you never know where you’re going to be assigned each year, so I’ve been introduced to different organizations and met new people,” she said. “It gives you an opportunity to make those connections and continue giving back to the community beyond The Big Event.”


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