Students plunge into cities
Maddie Daly | Thursday, January 17, 2013
Instead of spending winter vacation relaxing or earning money, several Notre Dame students donated their time to the underprivileged in their own backyards through the Center for Social Concerns’ Urban Plunge program.
Bill Purcell, the Center’s associate director for Catholic social tradition and practice, said this year’s theme was “Raising Voices in the City.”
Urban Plunge is a one-credit learning course that focuses on urban poverty in the United States, Purcell said. Students participate in a 40-hour immersive volunteer experience, usually in cities close to their homes.
Purcell said 210 students were chosen out of 280 applicants to this year’s program. These participants attended three preparatory class sessions about Catholic social tradition late in the fall semester.
Various professors taught the class sessions, including Mary Jo Bane, a political science professor from Harvard University who specializes in poverty studies, Purcell said.
Chris Weber, a sophomore from Chicago, Ill., said he decided to participate in the program after hearing positive feedback about Urban Plunge from his roommate.
“From him, I learned that it would be a service trip over winter break,” Weber said. “When I saw that there were a couple of sites located in Chicago, I thought, ‘Why not?'”
Weber said he did not know what to expect from the experience but was confident it would be worthwhile.
“Even after the three Urban Plunge classes before break, I had no greater understanding about the nature of the service I would be doing in Chicago at the Amate House site,” Weber said. “However, I was pleasantly surprised by the welcoming atmosphere there. The house staff was kind, funny, entertaining and generous.”
Weber said he felt at home after getting to know everyone through conversation, games and prayer.
“Over the course of the next two days, my fellow Notre Dame volunteers and I visited four different locations to lend our help,” Weber said. “We were able to get a sampling of various services: decorating Rice Krispies treats with the elderly, packing donated food goods at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, helping out a creative writing workshop for eighth graders and helping teach addition and subtraction to first graders.”
Weber said Urban Plunge changed his view of Chicago and opened his eyes to an entirely different way of life.
“Through these experiences, I was able to experience a whole different side of Chicago,” Weber said. “Additionally, I was privileged to meet amazing people from different walks of life, and I met some great fellow volunteers. For these reasons, I am glad that I participated in such a great service trip.”
Purcell said the Urban Plunge program predates the Center for Social Concerns, where it is currently housed.
“The program started in 1967 at Notre Dame and started to expand outside of Notre Dame in the 70s,” Purcell said.
As the Urban Plunge projects continue, Weber recommended the service opportunity to others.
“I would highly suggest that everyone tries an Urban Plunge at least once,” he said.