Alumni chapters expand Big Event to their own communities
Nathan Lavinka believes in the boundless nature of the Hokie Spirit.
“You’re still a Hokie, no matter if you’re in Blacksburg, Seattle, New Jersey, Atlanta, or wherever,” said Lavinka '11. “You still have the same ideals that you had when you were a student in Blacksburg.”
On April 6, Virginia Tech students will put those ideals on display during the annual student-run community service project, the Big Event. While students work to complete almost 1,200 service projects throughout the New River Valley, 40 different alumni chapters will be simultaneously doing the same in their own communities across the country.
The alumni involvement has grown the Big Event across the country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. But the expansion isn’t all that shocking to Lavinka, who spearheaded the first chapter to get involved in 2012.
“It’s awesome, but honestly, I’m not surprised that it’s taken off,” Lavinka said. “It just goes to show the power of the Hokie Nation.”
As a student, Lavinka was co-director of the Big Event in 2011. Following his graduation later that year, he moved to Charlotte and was quick to pitch the idea to fellow members of the Charlotte chapter, many of whom graduated prior to the Big Event starting in 2002.
“Fortunately, they were 1,000 percent behind it,” said Lavinka, who has been an Alumni Association board member since 2014.
The Charleston chapter has taken part in the Big Event for the past five years, with projects ranging from food and supply drives for a local homeless shelter to cleaning adopted highways.
“We were honored to be awarded the best Adopt-A-Highway in South Carolina a couple years ago,” said Tiffany Ritchie ’10, chapter president.
She said the chapter’s Big Event has become one of the favorite activities among both alums and community members, which she credits to the contagious Hokie spirit.
“We have people who don’t come out to any other event,” she said. “It’s that general Hokie spirit where everybody is giving back together. It creates an energy that’s just magnetic.”
Further south, the Central Florida chapter has also been involved with the Big Event during the past five years. Their most recent project is a clean-up on Coco Beach.
“It’s all part of being a Hokie," said P.J. Pietrandrea ’97, Central Florida chapter president.
He said the annual event has become a major draw for Hokies across their territory, which ranges from Dayton Beach to Lakeland, and has helped raise Virginia Tech’s profile in the region.
“You might be surprised, Virginia Tech is well known down here. People tend to associate us like, 'Oh it's Virginia Tech, they do good things,'” Pietrandrea said. “We’ve had a few people even tell us, ‘Hey, through you guys, I’ve become a Virginia Tech fan.’”
Lavinka said that alumni chapters joining the Big Event puts the university motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), on full display.
“It definitely solidifies the connection between alumni and present day Virginia Tech,” Lavinka said.
— Written by Travis Williams