About 2,500 University of Louisiana at Lafayette students spent Saturday working as volunteers at 64 sites in four Acadiana parishes.

During the second annual Big Event, they partnered with groups in Lafayette, Acadia, St. Martin and Vermilion parishes to make a difference through projects organized by United Way of Acadiana.

Examples of places that benefited from their labor are Vermilionville, a living history and folk life park; David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy; Evangeline Elementary School; and FoodNet, the Greater Acadiana Food Bank.

About 1,000 students concentrated on picking up litter, and removing illegal signs posted in public places, as part of Project Front Yard, a local effort to beautify Lafayette.

“The other 1,500 Big Event students were doing other notable projects all over town. We had a group of students that helped ReCover Acadiana sort and plant more than 100 trees in Graham-Brown Memorial Park. Other students helped out with projects such as landscaping work on UL's campus, painting and sprucing up parks and elementary schools, helping out at the Animal Rescue Foundation, and many more projects,” said Gretchen Vanicour, director of Sustainability at the University.

Jennifer Raggio, director of Marketing and Communications for United Way, said the UL Lafayette students made an impact on communities and brought awareness to many organizations.

“After Saturday, because of more than 2,500 students, people traveling down streets like Lake Martin Road, Johnston Street or Moss Street, can see a clean, beautiful landscape. Children play on clean and safe swing sets. A local food pantry can get nutritious food to more hungry neighbors. Children in need have accessed a wellness check-up. Thousands of children have more pride in their school’s atmosphere,” she said.

The workday started early, with participants gathering in front of Martin Hall on campus for an opening ceremony at 8 a.m.

“You are going to do a lot of good things for a lot of people. But you’re also going to do something for yourself. The more you contribute to the greater good, the better off you are. That’s the secret. That’s the key and that’s a lesson we hope you learn,” University President Dr. Joseph Savoie told the crowd.

It was a message that resonated with Rachelle Washington, director of logistics for The Big Event. The volunteer project "is a time to show my school pride and give back to the community. It allows me, and thousands of other students, to unite for a cause that's greater than ourselves," she said.

Keler Williams is director of volunteer mobilization and talent development for United Way of Acadiana. "We’re pleased to connect these students to meaningful volunteer opportunities,” Williams said.

The Big Event began in 1982 at Texas A&M and grew to more than 72 universities across the nation.

This year, it coincided in Lafayette with Make a Difference Day, a nationwide community-service campaign initiated by Gannett.