The Big Help: How It Can Work In Your Town
by Everett (MA) Mayor David Ragucci
The idea seemed far fetched--partner with a national television network to get their help in launching a community program in Everett, Massachusetts, a town of 35,000 people, but the TV partner was Nickelodeon. Nickelodeon is the kids' network with a big heart and an incredible kid volunteer program--the Big Help.
Last year, when we were deciding the best way to launch our CityWorks program -- an Everett youth initiative for community service -- it occurred to me that the perfect partner would be Nickelodeon. However, I can't really take credit for the idea. It came from my kids who were always pestering me to participate in this "great big" program that helps kids get involved in their communities. Honestly, my first thought was that it sounded too good to be true. Though, the more they talked about it, the more it piqued my curiosity.
I learned that The Big Help is Nickelodeon's pro-social program to connect kids to their communities through volunteering. They discovered about five years ago that kids want to volunteer in their communities, they just don't always know how. And often times, they don't have the opportunity. A number of communities and volunteer organizations leave kids out of the volunteer equation, thinking it just takes more work to include them.
As my staff and I sat around the big conference table thinking up tired ideas, I thought: why not? We needed the entire community's support and we needed some sizzle. What better than a national program with some real equity. A program that talks to kids -- Everett's future leaders -- on their level. When I said, "Hey, let's give Nickelodeon a call about including The Big Help," some of my colleagues looked at me like I needed help. And maybe they were just humoring me, but we decided to make a pitch.
The timing was perfect as Nickelodeon was launching their first countrywide Big Help Week tour and was looking for communities that were willing to provide local kids with real volunteer opportunities. Everett and The Big Help were a perfect match.
Everett was chosen to be the final stop on the cross-country tour of the Big Helpmobile. The entire community turned out in Garfield Park to do everything from cleaning up and planting trees to learning fire and household safety. We were filmed by The Big Help crew and the segment appeared on Nickelodeon that night. All of the kids and community organizations were incredibly proud to be highlighted on national television as an example of a community coming together.
So with a little planning, a lot of enthusiasm and incredible contributions from our community and Nickelodeon, we launched Everett's CityWorks through an amazingly successful community-wide initiative that continues to thrive.
And the kids really made the event. In gearing up for the event, local kids served on our Community Service task Force; they made cards for the elderly and nursing homes; and all of Everett's 5th graders helped produce their own public service announcements on local cable television.
Through community-wide focus kids learned that no matter how young or how small, they have the ability to make their mark in their community. Kids need to feel connected and to know they have a voice. They are the ultimate secret weapon; nothing can motivate parents like kids.
Nickelodeon's 1999 Big Help Campaign is focused on parks and includes a national tour of park renovation efforts. This year, Nickelodeon is making it even easier for small, local communities to get involved by providing 'Big Help In A Box.' I encourage every mayor in the country to include Big Help Week, April 19-25, in their program schedule. Nothing comes close to the boundless energy and infectious spirit kids provide. So don't think the idea is too far fetched or that your phone call won't get returned.
Before you know it, you'll have fifty 10-year olds in your office helping you brainstorm a community event! And the best part; they always have fresh ideas!