Several hundred Western Kentucky University freshmen spent time volunteering Thursday as part of Big Red’s Blitz, an annual day of service during M.A.S.T.E.R. Plan, WKU’s freshman orientation.

Students spent several hours performing service projects at 27 various places across town, including Lost River Cave and the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society.

Big Red’s Blitz helps first-year students build a relationship with the community early, said Anna Mantooth, a junior at WKU from Frankfort. Mantooth is one of the Western Leaders who help out behind the scenes of M.A.S.T.E.R. Plan.

“A lot of people aren’t from Bowling Green, so they don’t know exactly what’s here,” Mantooth said. “(Big Red’s Blitz) helps them know what organizations they can be part of.”

She made sure everything ran smoothly at the Lost River Cave service project, where students removed several invasive plant species, including Japanese long grass and winter creeper, said Curtis Espey, a guide at Lost River. The plants are not native to Lost River Cave, but sprout there after traveling through the water stream.

“We’d rather have the natural wildflowers there,” Espey said.

The WKU volunteers helped contain the growth of invasive species, he said.

“Without groups like this, we definitely don’t have the manpower to take care of it,” Espey said.

Sean Jacobson, a freshman from Louisville, said he signed up for the project at Lost River Cave because he wanted to be outdoors.

“It’s a good way to get out into the community,” he said. “It’s a helpful reminder that there’s stuff to do outside of campus.”

Stephanie Fithian, a freshman from Todd County, said Big Red’s Blitz was the first relaxed activity of M.A.S.T.E.R. Plan so far. The rest of the week was full of orientation classes and more structured events.

Fithian said she enjoyed seeing the wildlife and grounds of Lost River Cave. She’s looking forward to coming back to tour the cave and would also volunteer there again.

“There is so much to get done,” she said. “We aren’t going to get everything done (today).”

Rachel Swift, a freshman from Nashville, volunteered at the humane society’s animal shelter, walking and brushing dogs there.

Swift said she loves animals and decided to volunteer both as a way to help the organization and meet others.

“I always wanted to help out at our humane society back home, but I just never had the time,” she said.

Swift said she would definitely come back to the shelter to volunteer again, because it’s fun work that makes a difference.

“I like the fact that I know I’m doing good,” she said. “What I’m doing actually helps someone.”

Madison Correo, a freshman from Bardstown who also volunteered at the humane society, said the event is a great way to connect with the community.

“It’s just fun to do something you enjoy that also helps others,” she said.

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