This past weekend saw the return of St. Thomas’s annual BIG Event on May 7, a campuswide day of volunteering across the local community. The BIG Event is a collaboration between the Center for the Common Good and Tommies Together Volunteer Center to mobilize St. Thomas students to volunteer at various locations across the metro area, working to connect the broader community and St. Thomas students while furthering St. Thomas’ commitment to the common good. Many people planned and executed the BIG Event; the Newsroom connected with four volunteers who are a part of this St. Thomas extension of the common good.
Ben Clark, Ireland Hall community director
One of the main coordinators for the BIG Event was Ben Clark, the community director in Ireland Hall. Clark has previous experience working with the Center for the Common Good, as he was in a leadership position during his time as a graduate student at St. Thomas. He also volunteered in the Tommies Together Volunteer Center’s Tutor-Mentor program, a weekly hour of volunteering that allows St. Thomas students to support and create learning opportunities for K-12 students in the local area.
He has come back to St. Thomas to further benefit the lives of students through Residence Life and creating experiences for students to volunteer with local nonprofits. One of the ways Clark has connected students to volunteering in the community was a competition between residence halls based on the number of students who attended the BIG Event from each hall. The hall with the most attendees won a breakfast catered during finals week – a fun way to get students involved with their living communities and volunteering. Congratulations to the Flynn Apartments, who had the most attendees present.
When asked about the connection between St. Thomas and the local community created through volunteering, Clark stressed the importance of doing hands-on work to connect with people who one might not otherwise see. Recalling a memory from a previous volunteer experience, Clark described how during a cold, slushy winter day he had been dragging his feet to his shift at a local community center. When he showed up, it turned out it was sledding day for the children, and the excitement they felt for a couple hours of sledding on a dreary day gave him a newfound perspective on the day. He was able to appreciate the weather and the time with the center in a different light, and his recommendation to those who might be dragging their feet is to stop by the Tommies Together Volunteer Center.
“It’s run by students who want to coordinate for you,” said Clark. “Nonprofits are always looking for people. If you’re connected to the mission, they want you to show up!”
Ana Ware, Tommie Shelf student director
Another person behind the scenes of the BIG Event was Tommies Together Volunteer Center intern and Tommie Shelf Student Director Ana Ware. She is a part of a set of newer interns at the volunteer center as others gear up to graduate, and she is a first-year social work major. She works mainly with Tommie Shelf, a grocery giveaway that happens once a month on the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses that serves to rid food insecurity in the campus community. Tommie Shelf’s main partners include Keystone Community Services and Good in the 'Hood, which both work to eradicate food insecurity and educate communities on the underlying systemic issues that restrict access to food.
Ware has taken to the Tommies Together Volunteer Center with vigor and described a close-knit and welcoming environment. “Everyone has everyone’s back; it’s very rewarding,” Ware said about her work. She mentioned that even though not every intern is working on the same program, they are all working to benefit the community at large and to be surrounded by those who share a common goal helps to take a load off the work she does. Before the BIG Event, Ware and her fellow interns coordinated volunteering opportunities and helped to smooth the event planning. Many of the interns decided to be volunteer experience leads on the day of the BIG Event to further connect with their communities. If someone is feeling nervous about taking on a leadership position or starting to volunteer, Ware said, “It’s a lot more fun than you think, it does not feel like work!”
Asa Erickson, a BIG Event veteran
Also working as a volunteer experience lead during the BIG Event was Asa Erickson, a routine volunteer in the St. Thomas community and a junior majoring in entrepreneurship. Erickson served as a lead organizing the warehouse at The Arc Minnesota, an organization that protects and promotes the human rights of those with intellectual disabilities. The Arc Minnesota has thrift stores where community members can shop for items at a discounted rate, and the money they spend goes to fundraising. Erickson said that he first got started with volunteering during the First-Year Experience program where he met Casey Gordon, the senior program manager for the Center for the Common Good. She approached him about leading for the BIG Event and he has done so ever since.
Erickson said that the way he feels he’s impacted the community the most is through contributing to the decrease of food insecurity and housing insecurity for those who need it. He mentioned participating in Shelter Crew, a Tommies Together Volunteer Center program that coordinates volunteer opportunities between St. Thomas students and Catholic Charities or Habitat for Humanity to benefit those who are without adequate housing.
Erickson brought up the importance of the interaction between oneself and the community and had the most fun being able to be around those he was helping, such as serving meals at Catholic Charities. Like Clark, Erickson thought being able to volunteer in the community gave him a greater perspective on himself and his community, and he really appreciated the opportunities to connect with others. His advice to others would be to get over the hump: “There are so many opportunities at St. Thomas, just pick one you like and go.”
Rhoswen Waiba, a BIG Event first-timer
Not everyone at the BIG Event is a seasoned volunteer, nor do they have to be. Rhoswen Waiba, also known as Rosie, is a sophomore biochemistry major whose first time volunteering was at the BIG Event. She first became aware of the BIG Event when she saw it on TommieLink; Waiba made plans with her friends to go but was the only one to show up. Despite an unexpected start, Waibe said that she had a wonderful time volunteering with Tubman Family Alliance, an organization that works to help those who have experienced relationship violence, elder abuse, addiction, sexual exploitation or other forms of trauma. Waiba’s group spent their time repainting the children's playroom and picking up trash at the Tubman Family Alliance shelter.
Waiba recalled the fun she had getting together with a group of new people and doing something good for the community while enjoying themselves. “The painting was fun and easy to do. We were listening to music and singing along,” she said. Waiba said that the BIG Event was a great opportunity for St. Thomas students and that she would do it again. Her advice for someone like her who hadn’t volunteered before was to look to one’s clubs and professors, as every club has a service requirement, and many professors have opportunities for students to volunteer in the local community. Going with a club might also remove an element of anxiety over not knowing anyone present, as was the case with several clubs and organizations that participated in the BIG Event such as Sigma Chi, the Badminton Club, and the Volleyball Club.
“The Center for the Common Good and Tommies Together Volunteer Center are so thankful to not only those mentioned, but to everyone involved in the creation and execution of the BIG Event,” Casey Gordon, senior program manager of the Center for the Common Good, said. “The various opportunities given for volunteering during the BIG Event allow for students to explore different forms of volunteering and is also a perfect first-time opportunity for those who are unsure of where to start.”
Be on the lookout for next year’s BIG Event as well as other opportunities for volunteerism in the Center for the Common Good and Tommies Together Volunteer Center. Follow the Tommies Together Volunteer Center on Instagram at @tommiestogether.