The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Students visit areas of urban poverty

Cristina Sanchez | Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Center for Social Concerns’ Urban Plunge program offers students a productive way to become involved in social issues over their winter break.
Junior Aleshia Faulstich, who serves as Task Force Chair for Urban Plunge, said the program involves a 48-hour immersion experience in urban poverty. Three hundred student participants learn about urban poverty by volunteering at a variety of service organizations including soup kitchens, Catholic missions and other poverty relief charities in 40 cities across the U.S, she said. In preparation for the immersion experience, Faulstich said students take a one-credit course on the Church and social action.
“The purpose of this course is for students to learn the basics of Catholic social teaching and what poverty means in an urban setting,” she said.
The program is followed by a meeting where students meet to reflect upon their experiences, Faulstich said.
“Overall, Urban Plunge is an eye-opening experience that exposes students to a side of poverty in their hometowns they wouldn’t normally see,” said Faulstich.
Last January sophomore Emily Belin volunteered at the Holy Family Catholic Worker House in Kansas City, Missouri as part of the Urban Plunge.”The experience was as enriching for me as it was for the people I was helping,” Belin said.
Belin said she prepared meals and interacted with guests at the Holy Family House.
“I came to realize that the guests not only needed a warm meal and a place to stay but that they also needed companionship and the feeling of belonging to a community,” said Belin.
Belin said her Urban Plunge experience, with its emphasis on Catholic Social Teaching, prompted her to think about the inherent dignity of all people and ways in which poverty can be combated.
She said the experience motivated her to become involved in South Bend community outreach programs and apply all that she learned from Urban Plunge to her service work.
Sophomore Sarah Witt volunteered in Indianapolis, at the Ronald McDonald House and a local soup kitchen called Bread and Bowl.
Witt said the program helped her put a “face” to poverty and understand the needs of her community.
“You can always learn the facts about homelessness, but Urban Plunge gives you the opportunity to do so much more. It gives you the opportunity to go out and interact with people affected by poverty and hear their stories” Witt said.
Witt said the preparatory classes were especially helpful in allowing her to understand urban poverty and fully embrace the Urban Plunge experience.
“Several speakers came to our classes to help us grasp the complexity of the issue,” Witt said. “We had some speakers come in who had formerly been homeless. They talked to us about their experiences and ways that we can help fight poverty. It was really powerful.”
Junior Mayra Martinez said learning about urban poverty through the lens of Catholic social tradition enhanced her plunge experience working with Chicago’s Southwest Organizing Project.
“I got to see a side of poverty in my hometown that I didn’t know was there. That type of exposure to poverty issues is really valuable,” Martinez said.
Faulstich said she encourages all students to apply to the program.
“Being a good student is about more than just thriving in academics, its about learning how to make an impact in the world around you and contributing to the common good,” she said. “Urban plunge will teach you about solidarity and you will learn a lot about yourself in the process.”
The application deadline for Urban Plunge is Nov. 1.