Photo by Jon J. Shapley

It was a boisterous evening on the midway at the annual Big Hair Country Fair outside Austin, Texas. Guests tried their luck at games like ring toss, dug into the famous all-you-can-eat Salt Lick barbecue and, of course, got their hair coiffed into Texas-sized do’s, courtesy of local hairstylists. It all benefited Creative Action, a nonprofit dedicated to the academic, social and emotional development of youth, and more than 20 volunteers from the USC Alumni Chapter of Austin pitched in to make the fair a success. The Texas-based Trojans were part of USC’s Alumni Day of SCervice, in which USC alumni around the globe volunteer their time to benefit others.

“I love the alumni club in Austin,” said Jason Schukraft ’09, with a straw of hay clenched between his teeth. Dressed for the day in a cowboy hat and boots, Schukraft—a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin—staffed a booth where fairgoers tried to pop balloons with darts.

“We were into volunteering at USC, and we do it here in Austin too,” said Schukraft’s wife, Katie Plemmons ’09, an English teacher. Thousands of Trojans across five continents share that same spirit: the Big Hair Country Fair was just one of 80 community projects staged around the world during the third annual Alumni Day of SCervice on March 22.

Cheryl Mendoza ’08 traveled 200 miles to Austin from her Texas hometown of Corpus Christi to participate. Mendoza, an aerospace engineer who’s heading to law school, was willing to “volunteer to do whatever at the event.” She set up dinner tables and responded to logistical requests from event organizers.

Photo by Jon J. Shapley
Photo by Jon J. Shapley

Volunteering became a habit for Mendoza at USC. She participated in Alternative Spring Break, traveling to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, in 2005 to help clean up beaches and paint a school. Mendoza took the idea of serving even further from April to August 2013, deploying with the U.S. Army to Afghanistan, where she authorized repairs on helicopters. “It was incredible to serve my country,” she said.

“Every time I see Day of SCervice, I check what’s happening,” Mendoza said. “I choose between Austin, San Antonio and Houston. This event looked fun, and my sister came to join me.”

Marcelo Teson ’03, president of the Austin club and Alumni Day of SCervice event organizer, chose to team with Creative Action, which aims to inspire youth to be “creative artists, courageous allies, critical thinkers and confident leaders in their community,” because the organization’s mission made it a great fit for USC alumni. Teson and his wife, Hannah, both veterans of previous Big Hair Country Fairs, worked a bank booth that kept carnival patrons stocked with colorful bills reminiscent of Monopoly money.

Elsewhere at the fair, Vanessa Martucci ’09 and other volunteers guided revelers through silent auction tables laden with valuable goods and services. “Being here with other alumni makes me miss USC!” said Martucci, who’s working toward her master’s degree in global health at UT Austin. For Amy Escalera ’07, volunteering with other alumni provides a sense of belonging. “When I rst moved to Texas, I didn’t know anyone,” said Escalera, a marketing director, “so I connected with people through the USC alumni group.”

When dinnertime was called, partygoers filled their plates with barbecue, activity on the midway slowed, and USC volunteers took a breather. Brandon Ramirez ’10 and Kat Richards ’11 took over for the Tesons at the bank booth. Ramirez, an entrepreneur, said he knew that when he enrolled in USC, he was joining a bigger Trojan Family network—and it has helped his career. “So when I volunteer here, I am just paying it forward,” he said.

And they did just that at the Day of SCervice. Creative Action, which serves more than 18,000 Austin-area children each year, raised more than $180,000 at the 2014 Big Hair Country Fair—surpassing last year’s total, Teson said.

Teson, who teaches film, knows that good things can happen when Trojans come together. “We have a great alumni group,” he said. “It’s an oasis, and makes you feel like you are back home [at USC] again.”

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