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For nine months of the year, the Town of Blacksburg is filled with the bustle of Virginia Tech’s student population.

To say “thank you!” to the community that hosts them most of the year, thousands of university students take part in The Big Event, a student-run day of service rooted in Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

Registration for student volunteers and community job requests began on The Big Event’s website Monday, Jan. 19. The Big Event will take place Saturday, April 11.

United by the bond of Ut Prosim, leaders of the annual event expressed that the emphasis on service at Virginia Tech was a key reason for why they chose to attend the university.

“I knew that I had to do something to give back to this amazing place that I will forever call my home, and I quickly realized that getting involved with The Big Event was the perfect way to do that,” said Tory Cottle of Annapolis, Maryland, a senior majoring in biology and psychology in the College of Science.

Cottle is co-director for the 2015 event along with Austin Moon of Danville, Virginia, a senior majoring in biological systems engineering in the College of Engineering. Steven Vanderloo of Wilmington, Delaware, a junior majoring in business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business, is the assistant director.

Cottle shared that she has learned immeasurable lessons from working with The Big Event, including “how easy it is to become a catalyst for change within your own community.”

Moon added, “When you see how the homeowner’s faces light up when they see the work that the students have done, there is no better feeling.”

Moon was able to coordinate freshmen that he mentored through the Residential Leadership Community to serve last April. Following the event, they sought out more service opportunities and inquired about becoming part of The Big Event committee.

“Yes, The Big Event’s purpose is to say ‘thank you’ to our community, but how great that it inspires more service to spur on for the rest of the year,” said Moon. “Ut Prosim at its finest is serving only to find that you have inspired others to embrace service.”

Twenty-one students serve on the executive team, and 115 serve on committees, making The Big Event one of the largest student leadership teams on campus.

When The Big Event began in 2002, 475 volunteers worked on 60 projects. In 2014, 7,806 volunteers completed 878 projects in the community. This year, the executive team hopes to have 8,500 volunteers serving 1,000 projects.

Through years of growth, new sponsors, and the group’s recent classification as a University Chartered Student Organization, The Big Event has flourished into the second largest in the nation, just behind Texas A & M, where The Big Event was founded.

Warm Hearth Village, a retirement community in the New River Valley, will be the “target zone community” this year to help elderly individuals maintain their homes.

The impact of The Big Event on the New River Valley is evident not only in its beautification but also in the relationships built while serving the residents.

“During one of my project checks last year, one homeowner in particular stood out,” said Vanderloo. “She was a retired professor that was recently widowed, but she was so excited for the Big Event to get her yard all cleaned up and to meet the students. She had done The Big Event for a few years now and said she always gets a list of names and addresses for her volunteers to keep in touch.”

There are no socioeconomic qualifications for job requests, and university faculty and staff often take advantage of the opportunity get some help with yard work while building relationships with volunteers.

Written by Holly Paulette, Virginia Tech Division of Student Affairs