Joe Nussbaum is proof that sometimes the ideas college-aged kids dream up are good ones.
In 1982, he was a student at Texas A&M University. Nussbaum and a few fellow Aggies wanted to organize a community service project to give back to College Station, Texas.
Nussbaum took the lead with the idea that if he could convince multiple student organizations to come together to volunteer on one single day, it might energize the crowd and make more of an impact.
“It really caught on and you could tell after the first one that it was an idea that was going to stick,” Nussbaum said.
They called it The Big Event, and the first one was held on Feb. 20, 1983.
Thirty-five years after that initial community service day, The Big Event continues to grow and serve people far from the A&M campus. It is now the largest one-day student-run service project in the nation.
More than 125 university campuses now host The Big Event in their communities. The next one will be Saturday, March 24 and it marks the first time a city will host its own Big Event.
“It’s just beyond my wildest dreams how it’s evolved and grown,” he said.
Nussbaum owns ACP International in Arlington. He manufactures signs and decals for municipal governments and utility companies. His business is focused on making people notice things, but Nussbaum’s own impact on thousands of people through the years has gone mostly unnoticed.
“I kind of call it my accidental legacy. I never thought it would turn into this,” he said.
Jorja Clemson, a councilmember in Grand Prairie, heard about The Big Event from her grandson, a current A&M student.
“We don’t have a university, but I knew Grand Prairie had a heart for volunteering, for serving people, for giving back to the community and it’s a perfect match for our city. So, we contacted them and Grand Prairie is the first city to participate in the big event as a city only, without the university,” she said.
Grand Prairie expects 1,200 volunteers to work at 92 sites across the city.
Dwight Spencer of Freetown Road Church of Christ will be one of the volunteers.
“When I heard about it, it sparked something. It’s a great idea,” he said.
Spencer will spend his day at the home of Casey Riley, a 93-year-old Grand Prairie resident whose home needs a little attention.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Riley said, choking back tears when describing what the effort meant to him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Spencer said he and other volunteers will focus on some basic home repairs for Riley, as well as a massive yard cleanup.
“We’re going to shape it up and make it look good,” he said.
Texas A&M estimates more than 877 thousand community service hours have been performed through The Big Event in its three-and-a-half decade existence.
“The service project aspect of The Big Event is important, but there’s so much more to it,” Nussbaum said. “It’s college students taking an initiative to do service and developing leadership skills, which is critically important. And, it’s neighbor helping one another, the fellowship of neighborhoods. I think that’s something we’ve lost in our society. I think it’s wonderful to see. If The Big Event can be a project that helps encourage that, I think it’s great.”
It might be an accidental legacy for Nussbaum, but it’s an impressive one to leave.