More than 700 University of Georgia students volunteered Sunday, Nov. 5, at Shop with a Bulldawg’s annual event day. SWAB is a student-run nonprofit that partners with Athens-Clarke County elementary schools each year to take children holiday shopping and enjoy a day of activities with UGA student volunteers. This year, 400 children from 15 elementary schools across the county participated.
“SWAB is such an incredible example of tangible, direct service in which you get to experience firsthand the impact this organization has on the Athens-Clarke County community,” said Alex Arevalo, SWAB’s 2023 executive director and fourth-year UGA student.
The students involved with SWAB year-round, about 100 members, prepared for event day during the months prior. They worked to fundraise, recruit UGA students and bring together an out-of-this-world theme with decorations, T-shirts and more.
Event day began at Cedar Shoals High School as UGA students and elementary school children arrived in shifts for check-in, walking into the space-themed auditorium. Student volunteers were paired with a child for the day and assigned a planet representing their shift number.
After an energized welcome, they all loaded onto a bus headed to Walmart, where kids picked out everything from winter jackets to Lego sets. The children roamed through the toy section wearing matching blue event day shirts, embellished with outer-space designs. Laughter echoed through the aisles as they headed toward the checkout with full carts.
The UGA students and children then headed back to Cedar Shoals High School. Colorful paper was strewn across the cafeteria, where the space decorations continued. Students helped the children wrap gifts, then the kids picked up bags of school supplies and made their way to the gym to eat lunch, take photo booth pictures and play games. UGA mascot Hairy Dawg and football player C.J. Allen even made special appearances, posing for photos and spreading school spirit.
When their parents arrived, every kid left with a bag of gifts and a new friend from UGA. And the student volunteers got the opportunity to connect with the community they temporarily call home.
“SWAB means making memories with kids that will last throughout the year,” said Abigail Turner, SWAB 2023 first-year council member and first-year UGA student.
SWAB was founded in 2009 by three first-year students: Codie Haddon, Kaitlyn O’Keefe and Caitlyn Searles. On the first event day, SWAB was only able to invite 46 children. Now so many UGA students volunteer that the organization has grown to be able to include hundreds of Athens-Clarke County families.
“Event day is a labor of love, and very hard work over the span of nine months,” said Lindsay Kilpatrick, SWAB’s 2023 director of event operations. “As a student-run nonprofit, it can be daunting at times to pull off an event of this magnitude; however, event day is a compilation of all of those efforts.”