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Students serve in volunteer programs

Claire Reising | Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Several Notre Dame students will spend part of their winter breaks in impoverished urban areas or at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of the Center for Social Concerns’ winter seminars.

The CSC is holding four Experiential Learning Seminars: The Church and Social Action (Urban Plunge), Border Issues, Organizing, Power and Hope and Holy Cross Mission in Education.

Bill Purcell, director of the Urban Plunge and Holy Cross Mission in Education programs, said all the programs had an increase in applicants this year. Five percent of undergraduates applied for Urban Plunge, with over 400 people applying for 280 spots.

Senior Allyson Pishko, an Urban Plunge Task Force Leader, said she was pleased with the student interest in the program but had trouble choosing which applicants to accept.

“It was amazing we got so many people,” she said. “It was hard rejecting people because you don’t want to turn people away from the CSC.”

Although Purcell said greater advertising might have attracted more applicants for Urban Plunge, she could not identify an exact reason. However, Jim Paladino, director of the Border Issues Seminar, attributes this seminar’s increase in applicants to the immigration topic at the Notre Dame Forum Oct. 8

“It was three students for every one we could accept,” he said.

Despite the shortened winter break, Purcell said it will only affect the Holy Cross Mission in Education Seminar. One day was eliminated from the program so participants will not be able to spend as much time with Las Liagas, a tutoring program for public school children.

“Things are more condensed, so [students] will have less time with some of the non-profit, after-school programs with public school kids,” he said.

In addition to tutoring, students on the Holy Cross Mission in Education Seminar will work with children at St. John Vianney Catholic School in Goodyear, Ariz., and will visit various outreach programs around Phoenix, such as a soup kitchen, a job-placement agency that serves the homeless and a program for pregnant women. Families of St. John Vianney Parish will host the students.

Students will also do outreach work in Urban Plunge, a 48-hour immersion program in various cities throughout the United States. Participants will learn about urban poverty by visiting service agencies, such as soup kitchens and halfway houses and by meeting with city residents.

Pishko said her Urban Plunge experience in Pittsburgh made her aware of all the help that is needed in U.S. cities. She was especially affected by Gwen’s Girls, an agency that helps troubled girls in the area.

“It really was an eye-opener,” she said. “I never really knew all of the service agencies that existed there.”

While students in Urban Plunge engage in service outreach in the area, the 10 participants in Organizing, Power and Hope will meet with community leaders and learn how to organize resources to combat poverty and other social problems.

“We’re learning from organizations, pastors and leaders who do community organizing in Chicago,” program director Jay Caponigro said.

Student Coordinator Stuart Mora emphasized that this program is not a service seminar, but an opportunity for students with service experience to learn how community leaders became involved with their line of work.

“The whole idea is broad-based community organization, which means drawing from all kinds of organizations and bringing them all together to work on common issues,” Mora said.

The Border Issues Seminar also has a large educational component and its 10 participants will spend a week at Annunciation House, which is on the border of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. According to Campus Ministry Intern Dan Allen, students will meet with “people who are thinking about making a new life in America or have tried or failed,” as well as with the U.S. Border Patrol.

Allen hopes students will learn about both sides of the immigration debate. He also wants the experience to make immigration a personal issue for participants, instead of an abstract discussion topic.

“[Immigration] is an issue I think is very pressing in our country, and the human side of it doesn’t get spoken about enough,” he said.

To increase their understanding of the seminars, students will have readings and classroom sessions prior to their immersion experience and discuss social, political, economic and theological facets of the issues they will face.

“[Students will] get a face of what is poverty and be able to do an analysis around structural problems of poverty,” he said.

Another goal of the seminars is for students to stay involved with service activities later in their lives. Pishko said she is considering the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) or Teach for America after graduation.