The inaugural Big Event on April 11-12, a UCA Student Government Association project, sent members of the UCA community to participate in various acts of generosity and support in Conway.
Sophomore Kaitlyn Thompson, Big Event coordinator, said the nationwide event, though new to UCA, acts as a community service project to create a meaningful impact on residents and the UCA campus.
“We attended a conference on student government at Texas A&M university and we brought the event back from that conference that we attended and made it a goal of SGA for this year to have the event every year,” she said.
The SGA Big Event committee worked throughout the semester to plan for the two-day event that featured volunteer efforts such as campus cleanup, yard work, renovations and cleaning.
“Big Event is an event where the University of Central Arkansas students, staff and faculty members along with the Conway community can unite in a campus-wide effort for two days to impact our community,” according to SGA’s website.
Thompson serves as committee chair and said Big Event took an extra step in building a relationship with people outside of UCA’s campus.
“We feel like it’s important for the community to accept UCA students as part of their community,” she said.
Twenty-three community service jobs were completed Friday, April 11, and 17 jobs were completed Saturday, April 12, according to SGA. On Friday, 235 of 383 volunteers signed up participated while 176 of 359 worked in the community Saturday.
Thompson said about 200 students were assigned to volunteer for projects on campus and other students went off campus to do highway cleanup and volunteer with the Community Action Program for Central Arkansas (CAPCA), a program emphasizing self- reliance and involvement.
Despite the complications with volunteer turnout, Thompson said having more than 50 percent show up met her expectation, especially in the event’s first year.
“I feel like April is a time that is really, really busy for students and for everybody that is winding down in the semester and getting stressed out about exams,” she said. “I feel we had a great turnout.”
During the first day of work April 11, volunteers picked up trash, cleaned the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve, planted beds, weeded, swept trash and assisted university custodians. Thompson said an area was available at the amphitheater for the campus community to create cards for Arkansas Children’s Hospital patients.
That night, a benefit concert featuring the band Backroad Anthem had an initial $5 entry fee for students. Thompson said the fee was removed due to low attendance and students were allowed free entry.
About 60 students attended the 8 p.m. concert.
Senior Tee Sun was a volunteer team leader on both days and said the moment that stood out to him was seeing everyone having fun at the event.
“Community service doesn’t always sound like the most exciting thing to people, but when you’re with your friends or people that want to be there, then their attitudes will rub off,” he said. “It was great seeing everyone help out the community while enjoying themselves.”
On Saturday, the volunteer teams partnered with local organizations such as the Conway Downtown Partnership, Children’s Advocacy Alliance, Conway Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity, Blackbird Academy and Soul Food Café to work at their job sites.
Thompson said, looking ahead to next year, the event should only be one day long with students on and off campus on that day doing volunteer work.
Sun echoed the same sentiment, saying he hopes Big Event grows and that more people should sign up as volunteers.
“It was fun this year and hopefully word spreads about it for years to come,” he said.
Sun said Big Event not only benefits UCA and the Conway community but the students as well.
“It’s a great time for students to meet new people,” he said. “It was great to see individuals that haven’t met work together. Also, the service work we did benefitted the town we live in. We can see the direct results of our work.”