The 2019 Big Dig: Moving Earth to Lift Kids’ Spirits

 |  Sundt People

Cancer has impacted everyone in some way, shape or relation, perhaps through their friend or coworker, grandparent, or even their child. Sundt employee-owners and their families are no exception. For that reason, four years ago former Sundt CEO Dave Crawford decided to get the construction community involved on the ground level. Literally. The Big Dig in the Desert, hosted by the American Cancer Society and sponsored by several builders across the valley, just capped off its fourth year this past weekend. The event gives Phoenix-area kids, many battling cancer, the opportunity to operate heavy machinery as part of a fun-filled day with family.

overhead view of Big Dig event in Downtown Phoenix
This year’s Big Dig event was hosted downtown in partnership with the City of Phoenix

“When Sarah [Owen] first told me her idea to do this event, I said, ‘Absolutely. We’ll do our best to make this happen,'” said Dave. He went on to spearhead a committee including representatives from Sundt and 15 other companies, who coordinated the event and secured volunteers and equipment. In its first year, the Big Dig raised $150,000 for cancer research, and over 700 kids attended. “From our first year to now, the amount raised and people involved has steadily grown,” said Dave. Since its inception, the Big Dig has raised close to $800,000. “The other amazing part is that almost 80% of our operators come back every year. Some of them drive from California or Texas for this event. There’s just something special about it that keeps them coming back. We couldn’t do this without them.”

Sundt's Big Dig Committee Members and Safety Experts stand in front of Sundt truck
Sundt’s Big Dig Committee Members and Safety Experts (from left to right): Dave Crawford, Paul Levin, Michelle Lewis, Sarah Owen, Jeff Williamson and Omar Percy

Kids of all ages get to operate the excavators, ride the scissor lifts, and explore other machines—in a controlled environment, of course, the younger ones with the help of heavy equipment operators who volunteer their time. As Dave explained, this isn’t like seeing Santa Claus at the mall: “It’s like nothing else. They’re on real construction equipment with real construction workers. And some of these operators are pretty big, burly guys with lots of tattoos. One mom was hesitant to have her toddler go on the excavator for this reason—but afterwards, she was blown away with how caring the operator was. She told us, ‘He treated my son like his own child.'”

Sundt's Omar Percy gives volunteers an early-morning safety briefing
Sundt employee-owner Omar Percy gives event volunteers an early-morning safety briefing

Nothing can brighten a young person’s day like moving mountains of dirt, or going up and down in a scissor lift, or sitting in the driver’s seat of a giant dump truck, especially for those who don’t experience many healthy or “normal” days to just be a kid. And with an event this transformative, word travels fast. The Big Dig has spread to new cities including Las Vegas and El Paso. At the end of the day, it’s well worth the effort to coordinate, according to Dave. “To get the hand-written notes back from kids—and the parents—it’s just life-changing. It means so much to them, and it means just as much to us to be a part of this and to help them.”

overhead view of Big Dig event in Downtown Phoenix 2
A total of 16 construction companies and 300+ volunteers (including 40 operators) gave their time and resources to make the event possible