On Sunday, April 23, a small army of SUNY Cortland students will once again spread out into the Cortland community, cleaning, painting and otherwise sprucing up their town, as The Big Event returns after a three-year COVID-19 interruption.
Planning progresses with 405 volunteers to date who registered by the March 24th deadline, said Anneka Bowler, the Student Government Association president and the catalyst for restarting the fairly new campus tradition. That will include student groups such as the athletic teams men's volleyball and women's rugby and the Greek organizations Delta Phi Epsilon, Sigma Delta Tau.
And more are still asking to participate, she said.
"We are feeling so optimistic about this event," Bowler said of the five hours of spirited student-led community service, which became a Cortland tradition in 2015.
"To our knowledge, it will be one of the biggest events held at SUNY Cortland since 2019. The response that we have gotten from students is overwhelming, and it is really clear that SUNY Cortland is excited about giving back to the community."
Organizers now are mainly focused on securing donations of rakes and other items needed for the cleanup. They are also still looking for community members and organizations that need of help getting their properties cleaned up after winter and arranging for the student volunteers to be shuttled where they are most needed, Bowler said. So far, they have more than 40 work sites mapped out.
On April 23, registered volunteers should check in at 9 a.m.in the Corey Union Function Room. The event kickoff will feature remarks by SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum, Bowler and potentially others. The Big Event lasts until 2 p.m.
Registered participants will be contacted by email at least two weeks in advance of the event with more details.
“I am very grateful that I have the opportunity to reintroduce The Big Event to you all,” said Odyssey Bassett, the coordinator of events for the Student Government Association (SGA) and an organizer of this year’s event. She is a a senior biomedical sciences major from Albany, N.Y.
“In the past, SUNY Cortland held The Big Event to bring students, faculty and staff together to complete one big day of service for our neighbors in the community, and to say, ‘thank you’ to the Cortland community,” Bassett said.
Bowler, a junior political science major from Pearl River, N.Y., said she wanted to bring back The Big Event this year to improve relations between the college and the community.
"Students should realize that they temporarily occupy a space where some people live permanently, and giving back to the community is important in situations like this," Bowler said.
"I didn't participate in the last one but I had heard about the great things that the event did for the college and community," she said. "After COVID, bringing back The Big Event seemed like a great idea. I hope that future administrations of student government continue this."
Participation by members of Greek organizations, student clubs and athletic teams has fostered a strong turnout in the past. That momentum was stopped cold, however by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Volunteer work may include raking leaves, cleaning up trash, painting front porch steps, and any other requests SGA receives from community members. Volunteers are encouraged to bring their own equipment but the SGA will supply tools to those who don't bring them.
This year's The Big Event plans to follow the same general format as in the past, with a continental breakfast supported by SUNY Cortland Auxiliary Services. Volunteers receive their assignments and free T-shirts.
Founded at SUNY Cortland in 2015 by Ashlee Prewitt ’14, the student club Actively Involved in the Community (AIC) was previously responsible for organizing this event each spring. More than 400 volunteers participated in the first The Big Event in Cortland.
The Big Event is part of a national movement on college campuses. It originated in 1982 as a student-run service project developed by Texas A&M University. Although there is no nationally recognized organization for this specific event, colleges and universities across the U.S. have adopted similar projects on their campuses.