When it rained last week, Cathy Wells had holes in the backyard at her Broadmoor home that were filled nearly knee-deep with water. The “craters,” as Wells calls them, were left behind after huge trees fell during Hurricane Gustav in 2008.
But in less than an hour on Saturday, a group of 20 LSU students volunteering for the Geaux BIG Baton Rouge service event shoveled a dump truck’s worth of dirt into the holes and leveled the yard.
More than 1,300 volunteers participated in the third annual event, which is organized by the LSU student organization Geaux BIG. They split into teams to tackle nearly 70 projects around town that organizers selected through an application process.
The projects included painting a fence at BREC’s Farr Park, cleaning up litter around City Park Lake, painting curbs and doing landscaping work at Star Hill Baptist Church, cleaning up the Memory Garden at Charlie’s Place for Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area and doing other work for the nonprofit group.
“A lot of people assume we only help those that are less fortunate, but we really want to help anyone in the community because everyone is in need of some sort of help,” said Bryce Bourgeois, an LSU senior and executive director of Geaux BIG Baton Rouge.
Bourgeois estimates Geaux BIG volunteers contributed about $100,000 worth of work to the community on Saturday.
There’s more to the event than showing up to a job site, putting on some gloves and shoveling dirt, though — it also helps students build relationships. People who requested help from Geaux BIG are required to be on-site while the volunteers work.
“They’re able to connect and tell their stories and get a feel for why it’s so significant that we’re helping them,” Bourgeois said.
That is an important part of the college experience, volunteer Rebekah Crandle said as she flattened the surface of a filled-in hole with her shovel.
“Being at LSU, I guess our world can be a little bit small sometimes,” she said. “It’s a big campus, but sometimes it gets very small just living in a dorm or whatever. Actually being able to come out to events like this, you see that there is more things you need to do in our community.”
Crandle, a junior in accounting, was working alongside Raylea Barrow. The two once lived in the same residence hall at LSU.
“You’re doing manual labor, but you’re also doing it with your peers,” Crandle said.
“We go way back,” Barrow said, laughing. “But it’s a rewarding experience, being able to wake up early and give up yourself for a few hours, but you make a huge impact.”
Williams Myers, a finance freshman, said giving back is something everyone should do, but especially LSU students.
“It’s a public university,” he said. “That’s taxpayer money that’s funding us to go to school.”
Myers was one of the first to arrive at Wells’ home on Saturday, so he gave orders to the other volunteers — bring more dirt here, level the dirt over there. Though working hard, some volunteers found room for fun, leveling the surface of a hole they filled by stomping and dancing on it.
Wells was in awe of how fast the volunteers finished the job. The work would have been overwhelming for her, Wells said — she stays busy as director of the local Feral Cat Coalition.
“This is a job I knew me, myself and I would never be able to accomplish,” she said. “It would have taken me months. It was such a daunting task.”