Student volunteers contribute 175 service hours to Great Rivers Greenway project during The Big Event

Scene from The Big Event version 2017

UMSL students plant a bioswale with native plants during a service project in conjunction with Great Rivers Greenway on Sept. 23. (Photo by Aleathea Williams)

Removing invasive honeysuckle might not sound like a college student’s favorite way to spend four hours on a Saturday morning. But if you ask Harold Crawford, a social work major at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, he’ll insist it was an amazing experience.

A couple weekends ago, he and 42 other Tritons got going bright and early to collectively make a difference in the local community during this year’s Big Event service project.

“I got to work with the president of our Student Government Association,” Crawford said. “It was great to get out and do something to help Mother Earth.”

The annual effort is organized by SGA and UMSL’s Students of Service, and for this fall’s iteration they partnered with Great Rivers Greenway. Along with addressed invasive bush honeysuckle, the students planted a bioswale with native plants and conducted litter pickup along a greenway.

“I believe that The Big Event continues to be such a tradition for SOS, SGA and our campus community because it allows students to serve their community in a fun way with their peers,” said SGA Events Director Aleathea Williams, who also serves as vice president of UMSL’s Associated Black Collegians. “The work we completed will be something that others can experience and enjoy.”

A lot of planning goes into the day, and seeing those efforts result in a well-executed event was particularly gratifying to her.

“There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that is done that determines whether the event will fail or succeed,” Williams said, “so it was very interesting to be involved in processes I had never experienced before and rewarding to see the turnout.”

The UMSL volunteer crew contributed 175 service hours all told. In addition to giving back, the event gave them a chance to connect with fellow students early on in the fall semester, noted Assistant Director of Student Involvement Ashlee Roberts.

“I love seeing our students coming together to serve the community,” she said. “It’s a great way to engage them with different parts of St. Louis, as many people grew up sticking mostly to a couple of neighborhoods.

“They also get to learn the different needs that community organizations have. Plus, community service is a great way to meet new people without the pressure of the small talk and putting oneself ‘out there.’”

The Big Event used to happen later on in the school year, but a couple years ago it was moved to September as a way to set the tone for service as a cornerstone of the UMSL experience, Roberts added.

“We hope to see individual students and student organizations continue to engage in our community service projects and find opportunities to volunteer on their own,” she said. “We want students to learn that you don’t have to wait until you have a certain income to give back – you can give back now with your time and skills.”

Up next on Williams’ and other student leaders’ radar is UMSL’s 8th annual Trunk-or-Treat set for noon to 2 p.m. on Oct. 28. Families with children under 12 can stop by the Millennium Student Center Garage South throughout the free two-hour event.

The UMSL Experience

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