Bobcats dig in to support surrounding communities with The Big Event

April 15, 2024

Students give back to the community holding rakes and working in a garden

In the span of a single day, hundreds of Bobcats teamed up to support more than 60 area gardens, parks, neighborhoods, community centers and other sites during The Big Event.  

Each year, Quinnipiac’s participation in The Big Event is powered by a large number of volunteers from the university community including students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni.

Director of Community Engagement Vince Contrucci advises The Big Event student leadership at Quinnipiac. Contrucci credited the student organizers with undertaking the enormous task of organizing, promoting and preparing for the day of service.

"The Big Event is an organization that is truly run and organized by students to involve other students in a large day of service to meet community needs,” Contrucci said.

As a nationwide day of service, The Big Event inspires colleges and universities to send teams of volunteers into surrounding communities to make a noticeable difference in the lives of their neighbors. Saturday, April 13, marked Quinnipiac’s 15th year participating in The Big Event, its organizers said.

"I take great pride in being a member of The Big Event, as it provides not only a profound sense of community but also unparalleled opportunities for forging meaningful connections,” said student co-chair Emma Halbert. “Throughout the year, we devote ourselves to ensuring the success of this event and witnessing its impact on the local community is truly rewarding.”

“I participate in The Big Event because of the organization's commitment to inclusivity and diligent work ethic,” said student co-chair Caroline Kusmirek. “Each member is devoted to enhancing community service, aiming to elevate it to new heights to improve the quality and sustainability of local organizations and communities.”

On the morning of April 13, teams met up on the Mount Carmel Campus, where organizers had readied the proper tools, information and other materials needed to undertake each task. From there, team members fanned out in cars and buses to reach sites in Bethany, Branford, Cheshire, Hamden, Meriden, Milford, New Haven, North Haven, Plantsville, Southington and Wallingford.

Just a few miles from campus, several groups of students volunteered at the Keefe Community Center in Hamden. Teams helped by picking up litter along sidewalks and community gathering areas, as well as preparing raised beds in the Keefe Community Center Garden. The garden provides fresh, seasonal vegetables to the local food pantry.

Y’isiah Lopes oversees the community center with the Town of Hamden Community Services Department. Lopes said he saw The Big Event’s value in not only benefiting the community, but also the college students who came out to help.

“It’s two-fold,” said Lopes. “It’s great having our local higher education partner with the community and give back, but it’s also great for them, being college students in the town of Hamden, to see this part of the town. It’s great for them to have that experience and to also see them enjoying their time together as they give.”

Student Ryan Penrose led Quinnipiac’s Delta Chi fraternity team as they cleared weeds, added soil and planted early spring lettuces in the numerous raised beds of the Keefe Community Center Garden.

“We’ve done The Big Event all three years that we’ve been at Quinnipiac as a fraternity,” said Penrose. “Our philosophy is to promote friendship, develop character, advance justice and assist with the acquisition of a sound education, so doing a project like this has a lot of meaning. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also fun because it creates a bond as the guys are working together. And it’s developing character, too, which is one of our mottos.”

Quinnipiac professor of political science and environmental studies Sean Duffy also serves as Quinnipiac’s Executive Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute. Duffy said the work underway at the garden was the first step in a full circle of support connecting Quinnipiac to the community. The Albert Schweitzer Institute supports paid internships in environmental sustainability, food security, human rights, global engagement and communications.

“One of the things that we try to do at the Schweitzer Institute is to create a sustained relationship with a community partner. If we can hold that relationship, we can build a community connection,” said Duffy. “We have several community gardens we support and this is the beginning of our fifth year of planting out this garden. We’ll be able to give all this lettuce planted today over to the food pantry in June, in time to plant summer vegetables like tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.”

Another community garden being assisted by The Big Event was the Ivy Street Greenhouse and Community Garden in New Haven. Quinnipiac Women’s Ice Hockey players worked alongside President Judy Olian to help out in the corner lot which formerly held a blighted building.

“It’s a nice way to get involved in the community, and it’s nice to get out and do something different to help and branch out even farther than the Hamden area,” said student player Mia Lopata.

Another Bobcat helping out at the Ivy Street site was Jonah Cremin-Endes, who is just wrapping up his fourth year at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine. Cremin-Endes is also the son of Steven Cremin-Endes, Director of Community Building and Organizing for Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven, which oversees the Ivy Street Greenhouse and Community Garden.

“Because of my dad, I was involved with this even before I went off for undergrad, but an aspect of what attracted me to come back for medical school at Quinnipiac was The Big Event’s ability to connect with New Haven and the Greater New Haven community,” said Jonah Cremin-Endes.

Steven Cremin-Endes met with the student Bobcats to assign tasks including preparing beds, planting seeds in the greenhouse, clearing overgrowth and other work. He said their contribution will help to strengthen the neighborhood not only as a vibrant location where residents can grow fresh vegetables, but also as an important outdoor community hub where neighbors can gather. He encouraged the students to continue the momentum of The Big Event.

“I had a friend who always told me, ‘Just help one person today,’” said Cremin-Endes. “If you help one person one day, you do it again the next day, and you do it for a year, that can be pretty amazing.”

President Olian said The Big Event is a very visible demonstration of one of the pillars of Quinnipiac’s purpose and mission, which is to nurture both internal and external communities.

“We are committed to being great partners to our communities and we want our students to build this into their DNA — not just while they’re students, but when they leave and become community members,” said Olian. “We are all each other’s neighbors and we all need to contribute to the well-being of everyone who lives with us and around us.”

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