Big Ten Network rewards volunteerism with series, scholarship

Tanner Maxwell

After Northwestern alumnus John Trautwein’s son William committed suicide nearly a year ago, Trautwein (Weinberg ’84) created the Will To Live Foundation, a Georgia-based group that helps kids organize athletic events to promote communication in an attempt to curb teen suicide.

This year, Trautwein found an unexpected outlet for his message: Big Ten Network’s new “BTN LiveBIG” program. Each episode, the show will feature alumni and students from Big Ten schools who give back to the community. The eight-part series debuts Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. To promote the show, BTN will also recognize one student from each university for his or her volunteerism with a $1,000 scholarship.

In April, BTN contacted Trautwein about including his organization in the show. The network filmed a Will To Live Foundation baseball tournament near NU in July.

The experience, Trautwein said, was very healing and allowed him to promote the foundation’s concept of camaraderie among teammates.

“It was the first time in my life doing something 100 percent for others,” he said.

Erin Harvego, vice president of marketing for BTN, said the series will showcase a variety of people who have given back to their communities.

“Whether you went to that school or not, you’ll be blown away by these stories,” she said.

The goal of the program, Harvego said, is to engage viewers by promoting community service. However, BTN isn’t just encouraging volunteerism – its members have also volunteered themselves.

Medill junior Samuel Block, a BTN student ambassador, delved into the program over the summer with other BTN staff members by helping at a south Chicago elementary school. As part of its first “social initiative,” BTN volunteers repainted walls, landscaped the grounds and updated technology at the school.

“It was really cool to see people out of their comfort zone,” Block said. “I personally felt a sense of gratitude.”

BTN’s main priority, however, is showcasing student and alumni volunteers. Harvego said bringing the program to life was personally rewarding.

“You see and hear a lot of negative in the world,” she said. “This program is the opposite.”

Trautwein said he is glad BTN recognizes volunteerism.

“I wish more people would do it,” he said. “Don’t wait for a tragedy to do it.”

Students interested in the scholarship must submit an essay and volunteer a minimum of 10 hours before Dec. 9. The stories of five finalists will be posted online so that viewers can vote for a winner.

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