The Big Event: Making an Impact in the Community

Congratulations to Jennifer Walts who was recently invited to speak to 2,000 student volunteers involved in the Big Event at Quinnipiac University.  Ms. Walts founded the Big Event at Quinnipiac in 2010 when she was Vice President of Public Relations for the QU Student Government Association.  This year, 2,000 students provided service for over 230 non-profit organizations in the surrounding community. Originating 28 years ago at Texas A & M University, the Big Event has grown to be the largest, one-day, student-run service project in the nation. Its aim to give back presents students with the opportunity to say “Thank You” to residents and non-profits in their surrounding communities. Her speech describes how she brought the Big Event to Quinnipiac and how her keen interest in community service continues at Sturgis. 

By Jennifer Walts, Creativity-Activity-Service (CAS) Coordinator – West

Jen Walts speaks to student volunteers at Quinnipiac's Big Event 2016

Jen Walts speaks to student volunteers at Quinnipiac’s Big Event 2016

Good morning Big Event volunteers! I’m so honored to be addressing all of you today…

I’m a high school English Teacher and Service Coordinator at Sturgis Charter Public School on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Now with Cape Cod in mind, maybe you’re imagining boat shoes, Nantucket reds, and Vineyard Vines, or 4th of July traffic, but I really want to paint a more accurate picture of my current position and how the spirit of service is just a daily part of my life’s work.

Quinnipiac Volunteers

Quinnipiac Volunteers

In my position, my work with students is purposed to guide them in their learning beyond the academic classroom…and into the local and global community. I oversee students’ service-learning experiences. No hour counting or supervisor signatures…just meaningful questions, reflections and conversations about service. My team’s role directly impacts high school students’ experiences, their individual growth and understanding of service…in high school but also beyond…serving in their collegiate years, just like you.

In order to make more sense of the inspiration behind this day and the importance of service as I see it, we first need to go to Texas and then we’ll visit Nicaragua and then finally we’ll end up right back here in Hamden, Connecticut.

Jen Walts with Co-Organizers 2010

Jen Walts (r) with Co-Organizers 2010

In 2009, I had the privilege to attend a Student government conference at Texas A&M…on the flight home to QU, I couldn’t stop thinking about this campus-wide community service event…this Big Event thing. I remember having so many questions, jotting down pages and pages of ideas and visions: Why don’t we have this at Quinnipiac already? What could happen if we did? How possible is it to initiate something so BIG?

My answer to these questions existed in a small but BIG truth which I carried back with me from Leon, Nicaragua…In 2008, I had the opportunity to educate teachers there through a unique program offered by the Albert Schweitzer Institute.

A Flower of Volunteers 2010

A Flower of Volunteers 2010

During my time there, I attended an opening ceremony to kick off our week of service. Oscar, the key speaker at the ceremony, held up a tiny, tan seed, just a simple seed, and held it up to each student and teacher in the conference audience, and he asked us “What do you see?” People responded with simple answers, “A seed…a small seed…a seed” “Oscar we just don’t get it!” It echoed through the room. But the speaker continued with such enthusiasm…

“No…it’s so much more than a seed. It’s a plant. It’s a flower. It’s a garden. It’s a forest, a jungle, surrounded with animals and creatures. It’s a vision and an opportunity. It’s that small idea you had last night but some day….it will be so much bigger.

With this small but big truth in mind, I was inspired…

In response to my vision of bringing the Big Event to Quinnipiac, people often said it was ‘too big, too hard, too complicated to get the town involved”…

I knew I’d have to get the “Big people” to buy in…I would have to ask President Lahey for permission to do this event…I’d have to go to Facilities and ask if we could borrow a LOT of tools…I knew I would need to ask the Director of Athletics to donate some awesome t-shirts and Chartwell’s to donate a lot of food (because how could we possibly have a college campus event without free t-shirts and free food?)…I also knew that I had been to all of these offices before…and I could already see their faces when I returned to ask them for more…

Jen Walts is interviewed by media for 2010 Big Event

Jen Walts is interviewed by media for 2010 Big Event

Picture a younger me, with a nerdy clip-board, multiple notepads, color-coded post-its and a whole pile of frazzled ideas, speed-walking down Bobcat Way just deciding which office I would show up at next to ask for something…more recycling bins in the dorms, please, more food for more events, please, definitely more t-shirts…I was basically an enthusiastic service nerd on a really intense mission for people to help and to give…and it was so worth every speedwalk down Bobcat Way to get to the next meeting on time. I wanted the students at Quinnipiac, all of you, to learn the spirit of service and see it grow.

Quinnipiac 2016 Volunteers at Farmington Canal Clean-Up

Quinnipiac 2016 Volunteers at Farmington Canal Clean-Up

Right now there are nearly 2000 volunteers …just about 4 times as many volunteers as the first Big Event. Each one of you represents the growth of this once small seed and vision…now partnering with over 230 non profit organizations in the surrounding community…it’s all bigger and so much better than I could have ever imagined.

And please keep imagining that it will just keep growing…You are proof of this, and my life beyond Quinnipiac is proof too.

The year I arrived at Sturgis, the school expanded into two campuses in order to serve more students. The main campus became Sturgis East, and the new campus became Sturgis West. New growth. New direction. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was a part of this growth. It was inspiring. I felt a part of something so impactful.

Habitat for Humanity Crew

Sturgis Habitat for Humanity Crew

I arrived at Sturgis with a passion to learn what the community needed. Cape Cod needed blood donations, “Alright Sturgis, let’s start an annual blood drive.” Now, both Sturgis campuses have a competition to see how much blood can be donated. Cape Cod’s homelessness statistics are staggering, so I encouraged students to join me in local Habitat for Humanity builds. Students have continued with local builds as well as nation-wide Habitat for Humanity trips. Cape Cod’s non-profit organizations needed some help, so I suggested expanding our outreach from some connections we had on Main Street in Hyannis to the whole arm of the Cape. Every May, our graduating seniors provide service to 60+ non-profits…Senior Service Day, a mini-Big Event. My next goal is to hopefully have ALL high school students participate in a Sturgis Big Event.

Senior Service Day

Sturgis Senior Service Day

After serving for four years with Sturgis East and West, I’m already starting to imagine the possible growth of Sturgis’ community service outreach. Wherever I end up, I want to be a part of growth. I urge you to want this growth too.

Your service today is three hours, and the impact your presence and service provides to others will last for months or maybe even years to come. No matter what service you are involved in today…be present and recognize your impact…the possible growth that you are providing by giving of yourselves today. Consider today’s service as just a small act of service, a seed, capable of growing into a lifelong passion of helping others.

Continue to Live the Legend in whatever you do.

I wish you all the best!


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