NORMAL — One of the main reasons Austin Lovelady chose to attend Illinois State University was because of the location.
“Normal feels like home. There are nice people in this town,” said Lovelady, a senior from St. Charles.
On Saturday, he joined more than 200 fellow ISU students to complete projects for the annual Bring it Back to Normal service event.
Paige Buschman, graduate assistant for community service projects, said the event has seen “tremendous growth” since it began in 2008.
The first year, 31 students participated in projects at 13 sites, she said. Ten years later, 212 students registered to help with 42 projects.
“One goal is to get students to think about how they are part of the Normal community,” said Buschman. “With this program in particular, we want students to recognize that they are citizens of Normal.”
As students received their project assignments at ISU’s Bone Student Center, Ben McCready explained how the projects impact the town.
“When you’re out there today, know that people will notice," said McCready, assistant to the city manager. "This community is extremely proud to be home to Illinois State University. We consider you part of our town and we’re rooting for you every single day.”
The students split into groups to help individuals and community organizations in Normal and Bloomington.
Freshman Grace Taylor chose to help because she completed service work in high school for Habitat for Humanity.
“This is a good way to use my time since I don’t have much money to donate myself. This is a great place to live as a college student and it feels good to do something for the community,” said Taylor, of Champaign.
A group of athletes from ISU’s club baseball team drove to the home of Barb Dallinger in Normal where she had snacks and rakes waiting.
Dallinger, associate director of event management, dining and hospitality at ISU, said students have been helping her with projects around the house for eight years.
“I’ve had surgery twice on my leg and I was in a wheelchair for three months both times. Because they do this, it’s one of the things that lets me stay here,” she said.
Dallinger’s house overlooks a sloping backyard surrounded by large trees and gardens.
She asked the baseball team to prune some shrubs, rake leaves out of flower beds, pick up sticks, burn collected brush and assemble a bird bath.
She said the project is a chance to build relationships with ISU students.
“I will be more likely to go to a baseball game and cheer them on now,” she said. “We’re glad to have them here. When you hear other people in the community maybe complaining about students, I can chime in and say, ‘Hey, do you know what they did? They do this for me every year.’”
Senior Grant Miller snipped away dead foliage in Dallinger’s yard. He said community service was a way to grow closer to his teammates and “make the community happy.”
“I transferred to ISU my sophomore year. Normal has been a way better community than my other school,” said Miller, of Spring Grove. “I enjoy the people and the atmosphere. It has really helped me grow.”