By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Winter weather altered some of their plans, but it didn’t stop an army of University of Nebraska at Kearney students from completing their mission.
About 450 students spread out to 40 job sites Saturday for The Big Event, an annual day of giving back when Lopers take on various service projects to say thanks to the Kearney community.
The Big Event, started at Texas A&M University in 1982, is the largest one-day, student-run service project in the country. UNK has participated for 13 years and a little snow and chilly temperatures didn’t break that streak.
Although some outside projects were canceled, UNK students still found plenty to do, whether it was spring cleaning at The World Theatre, Kearney Area Children’s Museum and local churches, lending a hand at the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department training facility or helping elderly residents with yardwork.
Madison Hyberger, a sophomore from Lincoln, and nearly 30 other hammer-wielding UNK students were busy pounding nails at the Kearney Area Habitat for Humanity warehouse.
“My arm’s a little sore, but I haven’t hit myself yet, so I think that’s a pretty good accomplishment,” Hyberger said as the crew framed walls for three Habitat for Humanity houses.
The Alpha Xi Delta sorority member may not be an expert carpenter, but she’s always enjoyed volunteer work. The Big Event, she said, is special because it brings numerous UNK organizations together to focus on a single goal.
“It’s such an amazing thing to see how much it really impacts the community,” said Hyberger, who helped clean up a stretch of U.S. Highway 30 during last year’s event.
Of course, Habitat for Humanity is happy to have the extra labor as the nonprofit begins construction on its 80th, 81st and 82nd houses.
“It’s wonderful having them here,” Bonnie Mumm, hospitality chairwoman for Kearney Area Habitat for Humanity, said of the UNK students. “They are always enthusiastic and they like to swing a hammer.”
Loper athletic teams and other UNK groups are frequent volunteers for the local Habitat chapter, which hopes to have its next three houses completed by Thanksgiving.
About 20 blocks to the north, a group of residence hall assistants from UNK gathered at Cambridge Court Assisted Living for The Big Event. Since Mother Nature nixed their yardwork plans, they headed inside to help residents fill out a facility survey and visit for a few minutes.
“I thought it was really cool to go there. It was just really cool to hear their stories,” said Matt Fischer, a UNK junior from Hickman who was participating in his first Big Event.
Veronica Kirk, another first-time participant, also enjoyed the experience, saying it inspired her to volunteer at the assisted living more often.
“I just know that we made a lot of their days, because some of them don’t get a lot of visitors,” the UNK sophomore from Omaha said.
The Big Event, which is organized by the UNK Student Government, is all about making that impact.
“It’s only four hours on a Saturday morning, but it speaks volumes about the dedication of our students and their willingness to give back,” said Carlie Prososki, a UNK Student Government member and senior from Kearney.