On Nov. 6, some of the faculty, alumni, and current students at University of Dallas visited 40 homes in their Irving community to provide outdoor and indoor services for residents in need. This inaugural service project, named “The Big Event,” is just the beginning of what organizers hope will be an annual event.
About 200 people came out to be placed in teams of five to seven to go out to residents’ homes and take away some of their burdens in the form of servanthood. Some teams were assigned yard work, some repaired carpentry, and wallpaper issues, some dug trenches, some painted, and one team even moved a koi pond.
“This was our inaugural event,” said Aubrey Wieberg, Leadership Director of the Big Event.
“So, [Texas] A&M started this back in the 80s, and they kind of started the name, the Big Event, as well as the general idea. But then at the end of last year, I met with the provost, Dr. Leonard. I came to her, and I told her that I wanted to do something on campus that can bring us closer to the Irving community. And she said, ‘Well when I was at A&M, we did the Big Event.’ And I said, ‘That sounds pretty cool. Let’s bring it to UD,’” said Wieberg.
“It was really amazing to see over 200 UD students set out early Saturday morning to make a difference in the Irving community,” said Interim-Provost Dr. Tammy Leonard. “I was teamed up with a group of freshmen and as we were nearing the end of our work, the resident who we were helping asked the students why they were out working so hard. The students sort of shrugged and said they were happy to help.
“However, in our conversations later, the students expressed the true lesson of an opportunity like the Big Event. For them, the effort to get up early on a Saturday and spend the day working outside was very small compared to the impact that a selfless gesture can have on individuals, and really an entire community. I’m so proud of our students who started this initiative, the students who spent many hours planning for it, and the hundreds of students, faculty, and alumni who contributed to making it a success. I look forward to next year’s Big Event,” said Leonard.
“This involved current students, alumni, staff, and faculty. Mayor Stopfer came by and spoke, and he stayed around for a little while and chatted with the president. It was a great community experience. On one job, we had UD students and a faculty member working together. I just love that because it summarizes perfectly what we want to do. Students of all different ages volunteered, so there's four grades represented. And then there's faculty and all kinds of diversity. It was actually the most diverse event we've had on campus so far,” Wieberg said.
The interactions between residents and even student-to-student helped build bridges to the community and to each other.
“Students would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I just met the most interesting Irving resident, and we found something super cool in their garage, and we were asking them about it.’ It turned out to be a picture of the anatomy of a cat. And it was so odd and just interesting. So, they asked, ‘What is this?’ And the Irving resident just went into this whole story about how they found it in junk stuff while cleaning out the garage. That builds relationships with residents and between volunteers. I just came from another house. And it was a group that had originally gotten messed up. And so, it ended up being two people who had never met each other on campus, digging trenches together,” said Wieberg.
“At the beginning of the day, some volunteers didn't really know each other. And then I went at the end of the day, and they're asking me to take a picture of them together. And then they left with their hands over each other’s shoulders. You don't build relationships like this just through meeting each other and talking. You build relationships through something like a communal act of service,” Wieberg said.
The projects sometimes tested the perseverance and cleverness of the teams.
“There were many teams where it was just women volunteers, and they were just digging trenches. And they said, ‘We can do this,’ and they weren’t ‘too good' for that. There was a group wallpapering in a home who had never done any wallpapering before. So, they watched YouTube videos as they worked and got it done. And then there was a group fixing a column on a resident’s front porch was that kind of off-center. There was one home where the weeds were ridiculously high. Our Dean of Students, Dr. Greg Roper, brought his lawnmower in the back of his Camry and drove all the way out to the home and mowed the lady’s front and back lawn. Then came right back to UD to attend a lecture,” said Wieberg.
“It was fantastic. When I saw the assembly of all the students, and I had no experience with this. I didn't even know what it was when it was first mentioned to me over the summer, as I was just entering into this job [as Dean of Students],” said Roper. “In my experience, it was the most multicultural gathering I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s things like that which describes who we are as a university. We're coming together. But then we're also going out there and showing that we are not just talk,” Weiberg said.
She also commented about how the university’s messages drove the event and enhanced students’ studies.
“It just all came together perfectly, even the weather. I was talking with Provost [Dr. Shawnda Floyd], and I was saying that what we're doing today is a direct manifestation of what we learned in the classroom here at UD. We learned how to love God, and we learned how to love ourselves. But then we learned how to love our neighbors. And so, we discovered that every book that we pick up in a classroom, and everything I've learned here, UD has taught me those three things,” Wieberg said.
“One team moved a koi pond. One of our teams built a trampoline. Another team, who hasn’t made it back yet, is moving rocks from one part of a church to another because the little kids were basically throwing rocks at each other. And so, they asked us if we could move the rocks from the kindergarten area to the high school area. So, a team of students just went, and they moved all the rocks. So, there were very different jobs. But every job was definitely something that could tangibly help each person. That was the whole goal.
“It was great that on campus, people made different friends that they probably would have never met otherwise. And they have new relationships in the community. I just thought about what [this event has] done for the City itself. We went to 40 different households and helped,” said Wieberg.
“Everyone worked so hard today. And they came to me, and said, ‘I'm ready for a nap.’ And I said, ‘Go take a nap because you did great things for the city today.’ And the City has helped us so much. I even called them this summer and told them what we wanted to do and asked for their help. They sent it out to their email chains, and that's how the president signed up. Claudia Garibay from the Communication Department has helped us so much as well.
“They [Provost Floyd and President Dr. Christa Slejko] were here at 7:30 this morning. That's the type of people who are here. It's people who will go out and mow a random person's lawn and take five hours out of the day to do that, and then come back here and do their job.
“We didn't get a headcount today, but 270 people signed up. It was probably more like 200ish volunteers just because of cancellations. But yeah, it was a great turnout for a university of our size, which is 1,500 students. So, 200 out of 1,500 students came out. We had such a diverse mix of faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students. We just had a mix of different kinds of people. But also, it was racially diverse. It was such a great event as far as that goes. And I mean, we have our most diverse freshman class right now. It's great for the university to have such an inclusive environment,” said Wieberg.
“That's how we build bridges. We start digging trenches, and then we get to talk and learn about each other. It’s taking everything that I have learned in my head and putting it into practice. And so that was my entire goal. I would not be the person I am today without this university.
“I think for me, the real success was going out in the past hour to this woman named Wanda's house, and tears were welling up in her eyes. And she asked, ‘Can I show you what these students did?’ And I said, ‘Yes, for sure.’ She walked me to her backyard slowly, as she used a cane. The students had repainted her entire shed and repaved her stone walkway. So now she has a pathway to get to her shed. And the sides of her house had vines all over. They took all of that down and whitewashed it. It looks beautiful. Now she can actually walk to her backyard.
“Another example of selflessness is the women's basketball team. They had practice this morning, so they couldn’t make it early on. They came right after lunch, straight from practice. They went to a household, and they started working. They got finished early, so they went to another place and they’re still there. They are our last team to come back in,” Wieberg said.
“I oversaw seven households, and I just delivered supplies and food to all of the volunteers,” said Volunteer Grace Bascon. “And after I was done with that, I helped volunteer with another group moving rocks for a middle church. They provide daycare for families in the area. The younger kids were playing dodgeball with the rocks. So, we moved the rocks to a space that’s used for the older kids.”
“I'm under Aubrey [Wieberg], and she's the executive and the officer. And then my job is to basically drive around and manage households. I basically check on each team making sure everything's okay, and to bring them snacks or water,” said Chau Hoang, who was an officer that worked with Aubrey.
“The group that I had assigned to wallpaper did not know how to do it at all. They had to watch a couple of YouTube videos at the same time as wallpapering. And so, we had to make sure that the owner knew that our students weren't going to be professional.
“They were one of the later groups to come back. So, they were second to last. They just turned in their stuff. They had to stay back, like 30 minutes, 45 minutes afterward to finish their wallpapering. They showed a lot of dedication and perseverance, and they loved it,” said Hoang.
“It's like a way to physically do something with your morals in a sense. So that's what I really love about it. I'm glad they actually brought some type of event here to do because it really shows us that we can mentally do something with our morals, but also physically.
“I feel like physically learning also helps you really learn more than actually just thinking or reading about it, like the wallpaper team. I'm pretty sure they learned new skills,” Hoang said.
The Big Event was such a success that the University of Dallas hopes for it to become an annual event. For more information, visit UDallas.edu.