KU student volunteers work to make big difference during The Big Event

photo by: Nick Krug

Naval ROTC midshipman Austin Pitcher, a Kansas University freshman from Clearwater, Kan., paints under an overhang at the home of Lawrence resident Geoff Coburn on Saturday as part of The Big Event, a day of volunteering organized by KU students. Volunteers went to parks, private residences and other locations across town to help with various beautification and cleanup projects.

Thanks to the volunteer efforts of Kansas University students on Saturday, Andrew Claypool’s dream is much closer to reality.

“I feel like I won the lottery,” he said. “We moved here about eight months ago. The dream is to have a commercial flower garden where we can raise flowers for the Farmers’ Market. I’ve had difficulty getting all the irises planted a friend gave me with all the other things I had to do. Now, I think it’s going to happen.”

The 15 Beta Upsilon Chi fraternity members helping in the large backyard garden of Claypool’s North Lawrence home were among the 3,000 KU student Big Event volunteers fanned out across 330 Lawrence job sites Saturday.

Tasks included helping nonprofits, the Lawrence school district, churches and individuals with spring cleanup, painting, mulching and other things done with a broom, rake, shovel, pick or wheelbarrow.

Claypool, who learned about the Big Event through a city of Lawrence’s newsletter, said he had the volunteers dig ditches where he will plant iris bulbs and had them remove the brush he cut down with a chainsaw. He was upfront in his request for help that a visit to his site would involve “yard work and intense physical labor.”

With shovel in hand, Nathan Jones, a sophomore in pharmacy from Olathe, said Claypool delivered on that promise.

“I won’t need to work out for two months now,” he said early Saturday afternoon. “We’ve been here since 10 this morning, doing lots of digging. We moved a pile of dirt, also.”

But he and Dalton Hoffman, a senior from Salina, said the fraternity made the day fun. That was one of the things volunteers were instructed to do by Donna Craven, Big Event student executive director, as they mobilized for the day ahead on the KU campus.

“She said we should have a good time with it, be polite and work hard,” Hoffman said. “I just think it was something we needed to do. We like to do things for the community. We like to serve.”

The students might be more familiar with books and laptops, but they handled the tools they brought to the job site with enthusiasm, Claypool said.

“I’ve been impressed with their attitude,” he said. “Everybody is working hard. When I said I thought there was time to dig another row, they just chuckled.”

The same gung-ho approach impressed Danielle Brunin and Bridget Meier, who directed student volunteer efforts at the Peterson Park Community Garden. About 25 students from KU Christian Challenge helped prepare ground for plots at the first-year community garden.

“They weren’t afraid to get dirty,” Brunin said. “They get down and get right after it.”

With the students’ effort, the community garden is on schedule to start planting in raised beds on May 1, she said.

There was an added benefit from the KU students’ presence.?

“We had a lot of neighborhood kids come over and start helping when they saw all the commotion,” she said. “We’re going to have a kids’ garden, so it was nice to have them here.”