University Relations and Communications


December 30, 2016

 Free Hugs Project Poster


MSUB "Setting the Community Table” for Power of One Week

Events take place January 16-21, focusing on poverty and homelessness and will feature Ken Nwadike of the Free Hugs Project for Jan. 18 keynote



Cassie Solberg, Student Union & Events, 657-2320

University Relations, 657-2266


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Although Ken Nwadike didn’t qualify for the 2014 Boston Marathon (failing by a mere 23 seconds!), after witnessing the devastation of the bombing the year before, was determined to participate in some fashion.


Nwadike attended the race and gave free hugs as encouragement along the route, boosting spirits and making headlines as well.


That simple act of providing a little light and love years ago has blossomed into Nwadike’s Free Hugs Project, which he is bringing to Montana State University Billings during Power of One Week.


The annual event, steeped in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., takes place January 16 through the 21. This year’s theme, “Setting the Community Table,” is about opening a dialogue and raising awareness about poverty and homelessness.


MSU Billings presents the Free Hugs Project at 7p.m., January 18 in Petro Theatre. The event is free and open to the public.


“Ken has a huge online presence as the ‘Free Hugs Guy,” but he also overcame obstacles in his own life, like being a homeless student athlete,” said Interim Student Engagement Coordinator Cassie Solberg. “We’re excited to have him come to campus and share his experiences.”


Of course, as one can tell by viewing Nwadike’s many online videos, the Free Hugs Project will be uplifting and positive. Many of his videos have been viewed tens of millions of times!


Solberg said Nwadike will also be on campus that day visiting with students.


MSUB has been commemorating Dr. King’s life for over 20 years with a bell ringing ceremony and this year will be no different.


Power of One Week will begin with this somber ceremony, which symbolizes the quest for peace, justice, human rights and social and economic progress for all people, at 9:45a.m., January 16, at Peaks to Plains Park. Keynote speaker is Dr. Ginny Lee Mermel, BackPack Meals and Teen Pantry Programs coordinator for Billings Schools District Two.


Shayla Fox, student engagement coordinator with the Office for Community Involvement, said Mermel was a big help in getting the Yellowstone Emergency Pantry up and running.


A grand opening for the pantry will be held from 3-5p.m., January 19.


“When we conducted a survey about food insecurity on campus we were surprised to find out that it was more than we thought,” Fox said.


Fox hopes this year’s Power of One Week helps reduce the stigma around poverty and homelessness, not just on campus but around the community as well.


“There is a stereotype people have about homelessness, but it could be your neighbor or friend,” Fox said. “And a lot of people who live in Billings work paycheck to paycheck. They are just a couple of weeks from poverty or homelessness and so we want to eliminate the ‘them and us,’ from our language. It could be anyone.”


A complete description of events for Power of One Week can be found here.



Montana State University Billings Power of One Week Schedule:


January 16, 9:45 a.m., Bell Ringing Ceremony & Speaker, Peaks to Plains/SUB Atrium


January 17, 7p.m., Grocery BINGO, SUB Atrium


January 18, 5p.m., “Pack a Care Kit” SUB Atrium

                7p.m., Ken Nwadike: Free Hugs Project, Petro Theatre


January 19, 3-5p.m., Yellowjacket Emergency Pantry Grand Opening, SUB Room 222

                5p.m., Hunger Banquet, SUB Upper Galleria


January 20, 12:30p.m., Panel/Lunch & Learn, Beartooth


January 21, 9:30a.m., Service Saturday, SUB Atrium 


All events free and open to the public.