Hunting for community engagement? The Big Event may be your answer
BY Senior Reporter
The university wants students to have a sense of pride during their four years, but connecting to a community without any concrete ties can be hard, according to Jaime Renman, a senior public policy major from Langhorne, Pa.
She’s one of the main reasons an initiative called The Big Event is coming to campus for the first time. On Saturday, May 4, to help bridge the connection between students enrolled at the university and their community, students who decided to get involved will be participating in a day of service at local establishments.
Other universities, like Towson University and Texas A&M, have also established the event. Towson University describes it as the “largest day of community service where students, staff, faculty, and alumni give back to the community.”
Renman noticed the general lack of community engagement on campus, and decided to bring The Big Event to campus. As its executive director, she is now inundated by a whirlwind of planning for the next two months.
Noting that the university has “kind of taken over in a way,” Renman’s hopes are that students will engage in this day of service “to give thanks for all the community does for us.”
There are 33 service organizations on campus, and Greek life organizations frequently engage in community service too.
Renman, however, thinks another service event is needed, even though the university already has sanctioned days like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and our alternative breaks, due to the need for unity.
“There are so many good service organizations, and we all do service in a capacity, but how can it be stronger?” Renman said. “How can it be more of a unified front? It would allow for that larger unity. Everyone would know that it’s happening. It would literally be The Big Event.”
Madi Mucha, marketing executive for the initiative, stressed the need to give thanks to the local community.
“What makes The Big Event so special is not only this idea of giving thanks to the Newark community, our home away from home, but the caring, inspired and passionate students who are starting to get involved with us,” Mucha, a senior marketing major and social entrepreneurship minor at the university, stated in email.
Renman felt at a loss when people asked her what she was most proud of at the university, scanning her brain for possible answers.
“Is it The Green?” she said. “Our football team? Probably not … but if this grows, people can say, ‘I was a part of The Big Event, and that was an important part of my [university] experience.’”
Renman said the confirmed community participants thus far include the Newark Parks and Recreation Department and the George Wilson Center, which is located near North Campus. Tasks will include cleaning playgrounds, removing vandalism and helping in any other needed areas, like after-school programs. Participants of The Big Event may also get to pack resource bags for the homeless members of the community.
The day itself will run from around 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., beginning in Perkins Student Center with breakfast and some send-offs from community leaders. After the opening ceremonies, volunteers will leave for their trips and then return for a reflection after they finish their service.
They also have been looking at working with art students to paint a bike-themed mural on Casho Mill Road. The hope is that the mural will be almost done before the event, allowing students to visit the site on the day of the event and finish it off, once again promoting that concept of unity.
The Big Event also started Service Saturdays, where members engage in some form of community service on planned days leading up to the day of.
To promote themselves and kick off their initiative to get more students interested in their community, they also started a Speaker Series, a string of five talks featuring prominent members of the surrounding area. The series began on Feb. 20 and will run until April 25, with upcoming speakers including Maggie Ratnayake, Executive Director of Lori’s Hands and Deb Buenaga, a representative from Preston’s Playground.
The Big Event still must finalize its budget and finish up other tasks ahead of the event, but Renman said there is still the excitement of meeting that larger goal: to see students engage with their community.
“I hope that it’s meaningful,” Renman said. “I really don’t want it to be, ‘Oh, I went to a playground and picked up some trash’ — no, what does that really mean. Now people have a cleaner environment, so now they want to spend time outside, so they’re more physically active. I want to see [participants] go deeper than surface level.”
Mucha noted that she feels this impact that Renman mentioned. She said that The Big Event brings a positive impact to campus that is more than the ‘do-good’ nature of community service.
“I’ve gained so much knowledge from the e-board, committee members and various organizations we’ve partnered with,” Mucha stated. “I can’t imagine my year without all these people.”