Two springs ago, Sustainable Carolina brought The Big Event to USC, a one-day event intended to get students to engage with local members of Columbia through community service.
The Big Event was created by Texas A&M in 1982 as a way to show support to its surrounding community. Since then, it has expanded to over 100 campuses nationwide, including schools such as Virginia Tech, University of Delaware, Louisiana State University and Mississippi State.
For USC, The Big Event is all about bridging the gap between students and community members by engaging.
“In theory, we’re only here for four years. So, you look at somebody who’s a homeowner in this area, and they’ve been here for 10, 15 years. They see how Columbia has changed over that time, and we only see how it's changed over our short window,” co-director Jackson Eliasek said. "It's important for us to try and look at these organizations that we help, or these community members that we help, and see, like, what is Columbia's need?"
The Big Event was introduced to promote social sustainability, a process for making sustainable successful places that promote well-being by understanding what others need from the places they live and work.
“USC has so many negative effects on the area. Of course, we bring in a lot of positives,” Eliasek said. “The Vista wouldn’t exist without the university, or, like, the Statehouse wouldn’t be as nice without the university ... but there’s the other half of that, which is, when students go tailgating, they just leave their trash.”
Eliasek said The Big Event strives to help students understand they "do drain the community of resources" and they are "not only a part of the USC community, [they're] also a part of the greater Columbia community."
“What’s really important about The Big Event, is that it's about building community," Eliasek said. "The main mission of The Big Event is to connect USC students to community members and to show that we actually care about the Columbia community as a whole."
The Babcock Center, a nonprofit organization that supports adults with lifelong disabilities, participated as a community member with The Big Event this spring. Public relations specialist Angel Cheatwood said volunteers came to the center to help “beautify” the area.
“They were actually really inquisitive about the Babcock Center; so, to learn more about, you know, who we are and what we do,” Cheatwood said. “It was nice to know that the students that are participating and volunteering are getting to know the agencies that they partner with, and learning about, sort of, who they’re volunteering with and what impact everyone's making in the community.”
Third-year public relations student Chase Arledge said his favorite community service project was going to an elderly couple’s home to help them with yard work.
“In that moment, I was able to see someone who was in such need and coming from such a sincere place,” Arledge said. "We were able to actually afford to put mulch in her yard, and she made cookies for our volunteers."
The third annual Big Event will take place April 4, 2020. Registration for students to volunteer and for community members to participate will open soon.
“I was facilitating the service; just to even feel that kind of community bond, from not even being the person who’s serving, but just to be able to be there for someone who is in need and coming from such a sincere place; probably one of my favorite moments,” Arledge said.