A big helping hand

Published 7:24 pm Monday, April 3, 2017

Beautiful weather accompanied Longwood University’s Big Event on Saturday, as 330 students spread out across the area to take part in the school’s largest annual community service project day.

Katie Hyland, a senior at Longwood who was director of logistics for The Big Event, confirmed that there were 57 work sites this year.

“We ended up having a little more than we expected which is good, because students ended up going to a couple of (different) ones,” she said.

Longwood University student Robert Watkins helps Barbara Covington with some yard work Saturday during The Big Event.

Many of the work sites were residences in the community, and some of the tasks awaiting students at sites included yard work, light construction, trash pickup and more.

Hyland said the 2017 edition of The Big Event went smoothly logistically.

“It seemed like everyone was really enjoying themselves and having an awesome time and getting really pumped up to help the community,” she said.

Students entered into this opportunity to exercise citizen leadership with varying degrees of past experience in The Big Event.

“This (was) my first year I was free, so I definitely wanted to come out here and give it a go,” said senior Marc Mawyer shortly after arriving to do some yard work at a residence on Poplar Hill Drive. “So, I’m excited.”

He was accompanied by two Big Event veterans, juniors Emily Barksdale and Rebecca Skelton.

“I did it last year,” Barksdale said. “I found out through one of my roommates. She had done it her freshman year, and so she was telling me how great of an experience it was for her. And so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll sign up,’ and I love doing community service. So then when I did my first Big Event, it was amazing.”

Skelton said, “I also did it last year, and I loved it so much,” noting she wanted to do it her freshman year, too, but was thwarted due to a scheduling conflict.

Hyland said she participated in The Big Event both years as an underclassman and has served on The Big Event Executive Board for both years as an upperclassman.

Explaining what has helped sustain her involvement in The Big Event over the course of her entire collegiate experience, she said, “It’s just so awesome. The first time I did it, I loved going out there and just helping people, because I love doing stuff like that, and I think that I wanted to be involved and help run something that really just helped people regardless of anything.”

Sharing a highlight of Saturday for her, Hyland said, “I think the best part is (students’) reactions when they come back, because they come back and they tell us, ‘So and so wants to take us out to lunch,’” Hyland said. “They create those bonds with the community, which is basically what we’re trying to do.”

Members of Longwood University’s Big Event Executive Board gather for a photo outside Frazer Hall near the end of the school’s largest annual community service project day Saturday. Pictured are, from left, front row, Jennifer Cassidy and Aimee LaFontaine; middle row, Mary Goggins, Olivia Martin, Cheryl Steele, Jesse Ailstock and Katie Hyland; back row, Evan Barnes and J.D. Cichocki.

And those bonds showed in the glowing feedback from community members that directly benefitted from the hard work of Longwood’s students.

“I really appreciate what they do for me,” said Jo Smith after students raked the backyard of her home on Third Avenue. “This is the fourth year that I’ve had them on The Big Event, and I look forward every year to getting the call that says, ‘The Big Event’s coming up. Can we help you this year?’”

Barbara Covington was thrilled with the yardwork help she was receiving from Josh Morgan, Adam Turner, Robert Watkins and Alex Kennedy at her Fourth Avenue residence.

“I just want to cry because they’re seniors, and they won’t be here next year to do it,” she said. “These are the most fabulous, fabulous guys. They just accept work. They’re just great workers.”

Some of the different Longwood students involved Saturday noted why they thought The Big Event is important.

“I think it’s really important because we all come together as a community — a lot of Greek organizations come together — and we just make a difference in Farmville and show our community that we really do care,” said sophomore Catherine Elfers after completing yard work at Fuqua School.

Marc Mawyer said The Big Event is a good experience because it allows students and people in the community to interact and share their stories with each other.

Rebecca Skelton said, “I think just getting to know people in the community and kind of getting Longwood students off of the campus, exploring other parts of Farmville is really good.”

Emily Barksdale added, “I just think it’s great to give back to where we are.”

Hyland said, “We occupy this town for just a short amount of time, and because Farmville is just so gracious to allow us to live here and to be there for us and support us, I think it’s really important to just show our thanks through community service.”