By Kristóf Oltvai
Denison’s traditional service-oriented Big Red’s Big Day is extended to be a week-long project. Although students contributed close to 500 service hours and organizers lauded it as a success, statistics from this year showed a decrease in overall volunteer hours and decrease in volunteer hours per capita alongside an increase in net community involvement and number of service projects.
The Denison Community Association (DCA) organized the first-ever Big Red’s Big Week (BRBW) from March 25 – 29. According to Tori Couch ‘13, the president of DCA, the project attracted 215 volunteers who logged 480 hours of community service. Projects benefitted the Salvation Army, Newark Public Schools, Newark and Granville parks and community areas, as well as on-campus areas.
BRBW comes as DCA’s latest effort to engage the entire Denison community in a single, campus-wide community service event. In previous years, DCA hosted Big Red’s Big Day, which concentrated volunteering on a single day.
According to organizers, the change to a week-long initiative was logistical. “This year we wanted to try and accommodate everyone’s schedule by providing a week of opportunities at different times, in the hopes that more students would be able to engage in the various service opportunities provided,” Couch explained.
Megan Worden ‘15, DCA Events Captain, added that BRBW was part of DCA’s larger initiative to boost student volunteerism. “DCA’s major goal for this year was to increase involvement. We adopted this [week-long] structure because we thought it would do just that.”
Worden’s data suggests that BRBW did not log as many volunteer hours per capita as Big Red’s Big Day had in the past.
Last year, Big Red’s Big Day alone logged 1,020 volunteer hours for 215 students, for an average of 4.7 hours per student. This year’s statistics, the average BRBW volunteer logged 2.2 hours this year, based on data provided by Couch.
Taking these numbers into consideration, Big Red’s Big Week therefore had a volunteer hour net loss of approximately 51.9 percent and a net gain of 4.2 to 16.2 percent in the number of students involved.
These numbers clash with Couch’s estimates. “I feel as though we’ve been steadily improving in both volunteer hours by men as well as total hours compared to past years,” she said. She added that “While we had a slight decrease in the total number of hours, the number of volunteers didn’t decrease and we felt perhaps an even larger participation by student groups.”
Worden explains that this discrepancy is due to the structural differences between Big Red’s Big Day and the new Big Week format. She argued that “the adage that ‘quantity doesn’t equal quality’ applies to this situation. Just because we logged fewer hours this year does not mean that the value of this year’s service was any less.”
For Big Red’s Big Day, students had the option of participating in one of four projects on a Saturday: a kid’s fair at the Newark YMCA, two gardening projects, and a voter education canvassing session.
Big Red’s Big Week, on the other hand, offered 20 different volunteer projects, including “gardening, canvassing, collections, highway clean-ups, making PB&J sandwiches for after-school programs, and teaching local kids how to play lacrosse,” all over the course of an entire week.
Specific sites included Route 16, the YES Clubhouse in Newark, Wildwood Park in Granville, and Newark’s Sparta Restaurant. The “discrepancy is due to the fact that last year’s projects required the volunteers to dedicate a greater amount of their time to the activity,” Worden added.
Worden also indicated that she was pleased with the number of groups that came out to volunteer, including “sports teams, student groups, [and] members of Greek life” alongside “individuals.”
She specifically mentioned men’s varsity lacrosse, men’s and women’s varsity soccer, the University Programming Council, the Denison Chemical Society, Sigma Lambda Gamma, and Beta Theta Pi, while her colleague Couch highlighted UPC and the Leadership Fellows.
Organizers expressed enthusiasm about the outcome of the event. “I view Big Red’s Big Week as a success,” said Couch. “I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from the events, and several students volunteered more than once after enjoying their first project.”
Worden shared the feeling, “I was very pleased with the success of Big Red’s Big Week. I wasn’t sure what to expect, it being the first year for this new format, but I am very happy with the results.”
Both Couch and Worden felt that DCA had done its part well to advertise, promote, and cohere the events.
“Because the events were smaller individually there was less emphasis on each one, but our banner outside Slayter and tally of hours completed thus far inside Slayter tied the events together,” Couch explained.
Worden agreed. “I think we did a great job of advertising the event–several people were talking about it in the week leading up to it! We were much more organized this year because we only had a few projects to focus on each day. From a logistical perspective, the week-long format makes it easier to coordinate the little details of each project.”
Organizers also agreed that improvements to Big Red’s Big Week are an integral part of continuing DCA’s mission for community volunteerism. “This week-long format was an exciting new change for us,” said Couch, “and as with any opportunity we’ll continue to seek improvement in future years. We hope to engage in more collaboration with student organizations and teams, as well as seek new ways to engage parts of the campus community that don’t often take part in service.”
Worden added that some logistical changes are being planned. “Next year we would like to arrange a kick-off and closing event to further increase awareness and create a sense of community among our volunteers,” she said. “We’d also like to arrange a few more on-campus opportunities to make it even easier for students to volunteer.”
“Additionally, we are hoping to get more of the faculty and staff involved in our volunteer efforts beyond the donation collections.”
What is clear to DCA’s leaders is that volunteerism and community service are an integral part of the liberal arts education. “The goal of attending a liberal arts school is, I feel, to receive a well rounded exposure to numerous ideas and opportunities, and to be a part of an atmosphere where students can achieve their utmost and become fully engaged, active citizens,” said Couch. “Engaging in service is in large part taking the opportunity to become those active citizens we constantly reference.”
“It is easy to sit on the Hill and forget about the world in which we live,” said Worden. “Service forces us to travel to surrounding communities in need to see the struggles others face each day and think of ways we can help solve those issues.”
“Service aligns centrally with a liberal arts experience,” concluded Couch. “[You] learn from others and experience that self-growth you can’t get from just a classroom.”