More than 500 KU students volunteer as part of ‘The Big Event’

Libby Johnson of Lawrence tosses a spray bottle of glass cleaner to Michael Wade Smith as the two work to wash the windows of Kendall Simmons' Lawrence home Thursday, March 31, 2011. These two Kansas University seniors, along with many other KU students, spent the morning and afternoon doing odd jobs as part of The Big Event, a volunteer opportunity organized by KU Student Senate.

A colder and rainier day than expected didn’t dampen the spirits of volunteers from Kansas University who spent it helping out members of the Lawrence community.

It was KU’s first attempt at “The Big Event,” something that organizers hope becomes an annual tradition. Thursday, about 100 groups composed of about 500 people were out doing all kinds of odd jobs throughout the city.

The help was offered to all residents, regardless of need, which did create some initial confusion.

“Is this one of those subversive things?” asked Lawrence resident Steve Braswell. “Am I going to have to pay it forward or something?”

Nope, said the students who gathered at his house in the 400 block of Michigan Street. The volunteers intended the gesture as a thank you to the community. So they raked, washed windows and made themselves generally available for a couple of hours.

“I thought it was really cool,” said Kendall Simmons, as students were untangling a vine from her favorite bush. “Learning to do this kind of stuff when you’re young is really remarkable. If you learn it while you’re young, when you get older it’s still in your head.”

Participating students said they enjoyed the break from the routine.

“It’s a much different thing than we do every day,” said Aaron Dollinger, a senior from Leawood who was working in a group composed of Student Senate leaders. “This is something entirely different and a nice change of pace.”

The tradition began at Texas A&M University, said Michael Wade Smith, KU’s student body president, where it has been going on for nearly two decades. There, about 10,000 to 15,000 students participate, and students get the day off from class.

“We can grow to that,” Smith said.

He said the event’s organizers, KU students Hannah Bolton and Kris Velasco, did an outstanding job, and he hoped the event would be back again next year.

Already, momentum was building. KU administrators allowed faculty and staff to take up to four hours of paid work time to volunteer on the day, Smith said, and were supportive of the project in other ways, too.

Volunteers capped off the event with a scheduled concert in the evening featuring the Louisiana Street Band and Fourth of July.

His KUnited Student Senate coalition made bringing The Big Event to KU one of its platform issues during the last student election, he said, and hoped to be able to continue it in the future.

“I am so ecstatic with how this turned out,” he said.