Aggies And Big Event: Showing The World The Meaning Of Service
The group of students gathered around the table are focused and determined and have spent a year planning the undertaking before them with a meticulous attention to detail that would have done the generals who planned D-Day proud.
Like those generals, they have a mission clearly defined by a simple statement: One big day….one big thanks…. one Big Event.
An Army of Aggies
With thousands of Texas A&M University students involved, the event can definitely be described as “big.” The strength of all these students has one focus and that is to spend one big day — March 24 — out in the Bryan-College Station community doing fixing-up, clean-up and painting jobs as a way to offer one big “thank you” to the people who support them while they attend the university.
Big Event — the largest one-day student-run service project in the nation — began with just six Aggies in 1982 who volunteered to clean up a local cemetery. Last year, more than 15,000 Texas A&M students worked on approximately 1,500 projects.
“This year is our 30th anniversary,” says Ben Bates, a senior accounting major who also is in the Professional Program in Accounting and 2012 Big Event director. “We can’t wait to see the Aggie Spirit in action again this year.”
By the time the big day arrives, Bates and his 200-member committee will have seen to it that every one of the army of volunteers has gone through training workshops that include everything from safety rules and scheduling to details of how to clean up paint brushes in the most environmentally friendly manner.
Big Event Gets Its Start With A Simple Idea…Giving Back
Joe Nussbaum ’84 was one of those first six Aggie volunteers at the first Big Event and he had a hand in its evolution. In 1982 he was a leader in Texas A&M’s Student Government Association along with his friend Evan Secor ’84. Another friend, Becky Bristol ’86 (now Becky Nussbaum), served as the first Big Event publicity director.
Aggies are always enthusiastic about helping wherever they can and, once the idea of Big Event took shape, other student organizations wanted in on the service project. In fact, when it came time to plan the second Big Event, there were more volunteers than there were projects so Nussbaum and the others began hunting for jobs to do. Becky passed out flyers at local businesses and stapled Big Event information to bags in local supermarkets.
Joe even managed to talk Dallas Cowboys football coach Tom Landry and Texas Rangers team owner Eddie Chiles to record public service announcements for Big Event.
The idea also caught on with some local organizations eager to offer projects the students might take on. For example, the Brazos Valley Genealogical Society gave them a list of 20 cemeteries that needed clearing and Keep Brazos Beautiful, a community beautification society, found projects enough for all 2,000 members of the Corps of Cadets.
For its second year, instead of six students doing one project, the enthusiastic Aggie volunteers totaled 2,500, and they completed approximately 60 jobs.
Those first Aggie leaders picked “Big Event” as a sort of working title for their service project and just never got around to changing it.
Now all the Big Event committee needs to do is spread the word by advertising in the local newspaper, using social media outlets and setting up a website to invite local residents to suggest jobs for them. The jobs pour in and so do Aggie volunteers eager to find some way to serve the community.
“There are often projects that we run into that need a lot of helping hands and they are always just perfect for the Big Event,” says Barbara Moore, with the College Station Neighborhood Services Office. “It has become something the community looks forward to every year. The Big Event is a great opportunity for the students to show the community they care and want this to be a great place to live.”
The “Generals” Get Down To The Details
The committee has planned every detail of the day of Big Event. On March 24, their day will begin at 5 a.m. when they will make final checks on Lot 100c at the southwest corner of Reed Arena. They also will set up areas for food for the Aggie volunteers — the current count as of mid-February stands at 17,000. The stage for Big Event speakers — including Nussbaum and Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin — will be finalized, volunteer sign-in, tool pick-up, volunteer parking and hundreds of other details such as computers for sign-in and establishing Internet connections will all be taken care of by 7 a.m.
The kickoff ceremony begins at 9:15 a.m. and ends 30 minutes later with the Parson’s Mounted Cavalry firing a cannon volley and volunteers — all dressed in green Big Event T-shirts — grabbing their tools and heading out to their assigned jobs.
As those jobs are finished, the whole process works in reverse as volunteers return to the southwest corner of the Reed Arena parking lots (100c) to check back in and return their tools which will then be gathered up and stored until needed next year.
Setting an Example
This amazing group of students — both the current ones and those of the past all the way back to those first six Aggies — have set an example for others to follow.
The event received a Point of Light Award from President Barack Obama in 2009. That was the same year former President George H.W. Bush addressed Big Event participants at the kick off ceremony, thanking them for their example of service and wishing them well.
The “Sea Aggies” at Texas A&M’s branch campus — Texas A&M University at Galveston — have participated in The Big Event since 1994 and last year nearly 500 of them completed projects such as replacing some of the thousands of trees on the island destroyed by Hurricane Ike.
“For the past eight years, the City of Bryan has worked cooperatively with the Big Event students to assist them in serving the citizens of Bryan through this unique student-run community service project. The students are a pleasure to work with and provide a very valuable service to the City of Bryan,” says Ronnie L. Jackson, Neighborhood/Youth Services manager with the City of Bryan.
Jackson adds that the Bryan City Council will recognize the student volunteers of Big Event during one of its meetings in March.
Working at one site last year, An Ho ’13 of Houston says she found that helping others was rewarding.
“It’s just been great how much they appreciate that we’re here to help,” Ho says.
With paint smeared on her face, Diana Sun ’12 of Plano chimes in, “It’s something we do every year. A&M is really proud that it’s the biggest single day of student-led community service in the nation.”
Taking a Leadership Role
But the work of the “generals” planning Big Event doesn’t stop with the actual event.
The Texas A&M students have taken a leadership role in planning and promoting such large scale community service projects by hosting a Big Event conference each year since 2006. The conference is attended by students from other institutions and the Aggie student leaders help them plan similar community service events in their home communities. Through their leadership, Big Event has been replicated at 75 other university campuses across the country, though none to the scale as the one in Aggieland.
Throughout the year, the Big Event student organization raises all the money it needs for materials and tools to do the multitude of jobs, with the help of donations from friends such as the Aggie Mothers’ Clubs, The Association of Former Students, community businesses, local residents and other generous individuals.
The students also host an annual ‘Big Event Gala and Silent Auction’ each fall as well as participate in several profit shares with local restaurants at various times throughout the year.
For more information about Big Event, please visit bigevent.tamu.edu.
12 Impacts of the 12th Man shows how the 12th Man is impacting the world. More than athletics, the Spirit of the 12th Man embodies all of Texas A&M. We are all the 12th Man.