By VIMAL PATEL
Ben Bates was hooked on The Big Event his sophomore year after he went into local residents' homes during the pre-planning process of Texas A&M's service project that sees thousands of students fan out into the community to help with manual labor.
"It was just being able to meet the residents, and hear about their lives, and how much they appreciate the students," said Bates, who is now the director of The Big Event, the nation's largest student-run service project.
Next Saturday, around 17,500 students are signed up to complete some 1,900 jobs around the community, everything from painting fences to digging irrigation ditches It's the largest number of jobs and students involved ever. Each Big Event for the last decade or so has broken a record, Bates said.
The event is designed to say "thank you" to the community that houses a Tier 1 research university and the nearly 50,000 students who come with it.
"The way we pitch it, it's more than just about raking someone's leaves," Bates said. "It's an opportunity to get to know someone in the community. We want students to develop a sense of community in Bryan-College Station."
The event started 30 years ago, and has sparked similar events at other major universities, which also call theirs The Big Event, as at Virginia Tech. But the largest of these is around half the size of Texas A&M's, Bates said.
Serving as director of the event is essentially a full-time job, overseeing about 200 student staff members, said Bates, a senior accounting major.
Each job requires careful planning. As part of the risk management process, recipients are checked to make sure they aren't sex offenders. The student participants have to be matched with each job, making sure, for instance, that students allergic to horses aren't sent to a home with horses.
On the morning of the event, Bates takes pride that some 15,000 tools -- everything from shovels, ladders and paintbrushes -- are distributed within 15 minutes with the help of around 100 staff members.
"It's awe-inspiring to see almost half of the undergraduate population being involved with something," he said. "It's a tangible example of A&M's core value of selfless service."
The time for job requests is closed, but students wanting to help can still sign up at the event's kickoff ceremony at 8 a.m. in lot 100C of Reed Arena.
Visit bigevent.tamu.edu for more information.