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Commerce comes together for 'Big Event'

By Adam Troxtell
On April 11, 2011


On Saturday, April 9, one of the biggest cleanup projects in the county, known as the Big Event, brought people from the university and the community together for a day of charity.

County Commissioner Jim Latham said the event, which he helped start 13 years ago, has gradually become more successful with each edition.

"It keeps getting bigger and better every year," he said. "They keep getting more and more projects, more and more people involved, and it just keeps growing; kind of like a snowball."

The event is organized by the Chamber of Commerce. Project applications are accepted in the days leading up, to the event and volunteers are placed into groups that go out and dedicate the morning to chores such as picking up trash, painting houses and yard work.

"If there's a house that needs painting, and they can't afford to paint it, we'll try to find some businesses to donate the house paint and we'll provide the labor for it," Latham said. "We've had a house painted this year."

The day began around 8 a.m., and culminated to a luncheon at City Park at noon. Executive Director for the Chamber of Commerce Doug Rohrabaugh said volunteers were working at many locations across the city.

"There was lots of work at the community garden as far as spreading mulch, building a worm bed," he said. "We had high school students cleaning up behind the library, that was really good. And we had a group of university athletes cleaning up Author's Park, trimming back rose bushes and staining the gazebo there."

Many university organizations were involved in the cleanup, with the Caribbean Students Association cleaning along highway 71 and members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and the Commerce Skatepark Project painting benches at Centennial Park, which is the future site of a city skate park. Adjunct professor in the political science department Barbara Lennington, who is one of the lead voices in bringing a skate park to the city, said the university and community working together is critical.

"I had four ex-students that are Pike's now that were out painting benches," she said. "It's important, everybody's got to work together. There's little work that can be accomplished when small groups try to do something big, but when you get a lot of little groups joined together, then you can accomplish great things."

Former Head of the A&M-Commerce Psychology Department and professor Dr. Paul Zelhart said one of the reasons he and Latham decided to suggest the event was to get the university and the community working together.

"We were interested in having more students at the university, and the notion was that a better relationship between town and gown required the students have an identity with the community," Zelhart said. "We thought a day in which there was a joint effort, a cleanup of the community, would be a good idea."

While the Big Event projects differ each year, Latham said some places, like Author's Park, have always been a staple for volunteer workers.

"Author's Park was one of our original projects," he said. "It's been maintained every year through Big Event. It was originally just an old building that had a lot of needles and drug activity in it. We tore it down and made a park out of it."

Now the park hosts a Walk of Fame, in which four writers and an artist were inducted the following Sunday. Authors of literature, poetry and academic works; painters, sculptors, and composers are all eligible to be entered, according to Zelhart.

"The only rule is it has to be somebody that has had some kind of identity with Commerce," he said. "Anyone who nominates an artists is obliged to donate $100 to the library."

Zelhart also said one way to judge how this year's event compares to previous ones is in the amount of garbage collected.

"As one index of success, we've collected more trash today than ever before," he said. "I think it's a good thing for the community, good for the university. Everybody who proposes a project, they've funded themselves. So there's no city money, there's no perishable university money; it's all coming out of the community. I think it's just something university towns ought to do."

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