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Students use break for service, learning

Justin Tardiff | Monday, December 5, 2005

As students buckle down for end-of-semester projects and finals, some are also spending extra time in the classroom preparing to participate in winter break seminars through the Center for Social Concerns (CSC).

This year, the CSC is offering the always-popular The Church and Social Action seminar – better known as Urban Plunge – in a number of sites all over the country. Also offered are the Organizing, Power and Hope Seminar in Chicago, the Holy Cross Mission in Education Seminar in Arizona and the Border Issues Seminar in Texas and Mexico.

Jay Caponigro, director of the Organizing, Power and Hope Seminar, said he saw an increase in applications this year.

“I believe this is due to word of mouth, advertising and the experience of previous participants,” Caponigro said.

Notre Dame’s participation in a postseason bowl game has affected some students’ plans – some may now have to decide between participation in a seminar and attending a bowl game.

However, Caponigro said he does not think the possibility of a bowl game has seriously affected student participation in his seminar.

Several students said that while they would be sad to miss a bowl game, it has not affected their plans for the break.

“I feel I would be doing myself, and others, a disservice if I didn’t participate,” said sophomore Regina Gesicki, who will participate in the New York City Plunge. “It’s part of becoming educated, to see what social responsibility is and to step away from apathy.”

The Urban Plunge seminar is the largest of all CSC seminars, accommodating up to 400 students from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross. Urban Plunge sends students to various cities across the nation, with 43 different sites available this year. During their 48-hour immersion, the students will be exposed to the problems of poverty in these urban centers.

Notre Dame senior Sara Urben said she will be considering problems that are close to home – literally.

“I chose to do Urban Plunge in Chicago because as someone who lives 15 minutes outside of the city in the suburbs, I only see one side of the city,” she said. “After doing a Summer Service Project in Chicago, I realized that there is an ugly side to the city that I love so much. I wanted to do an Urban Plunge to learn more about the issues that affect our nation’s big cities.”

While students participating in the Urban Plunge seminar usually serve in areas near their own home, other seminars require students to travel across the country. Participants in the Border Issues Seminar will serve in both El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Elias Moo, who participated in this seminar last winter break, is now serving as one of its two student coordinators.

“The seminar experience has impacted me in a way that now I feel it is a responsibility and a mission to pass on what I have seen and lived to others who may not recognize the reality of the border and our broken immigration policy,” Moo said.

The seminars show students a side of life some have never experienced before.

“I’m expecting to be shaken up and upset from what I see,” Gesicki said. “I hope I can learn from the people I meet or the situations I encounter and take something with me.”

Moo said he hoped this new perspective would have a serious impact on students.

“I think the greatest challenge of these seminars is allowing ourselves to be open to the realities of the disparities that exist socially and economically in the U.S.,” he said.