On February 16th, a group of RC students departed for Washington, D.C. on the Community Service Office-sponsored Urban Plunge trip.
The trip is one of 3 “Plunge” trips offered yearly by the Community Service Office. The first is a freshman-only pre-orientation program simply called Plunge. First offered in 2010, the experience combines two previously existing trips, Urban Plunge and Appalachian Plunge. The October-offered Appalachian Plunge takes students to Grace House, a service-providing organization in the coal town of St. Paul, VA. Â For a weekend, they work with locals on various home repairs and small household projects.
The February-offered Urban Plunge takes students to the Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP), a New York-based non-profit that opened a D.C. chapter in 2003 at the Church of the Epiphany, an Episcopal church three blocks from the White House in downtown. Much of the trip’s focus is on homeless awareness, both on the diversity of its causes and the breaking down of homeless-related stereotypes.
This year’s participants included eight RC students as well as Jesse Griffin, the Director of the Community Service Office, and Charisse Brass, an AmeriCorps volunteer working in the Community Service Office this year. Each day, the partakers broke into two groups and spent their days at different non-profits.
On the first day, one group traveled to Food and Friends, an organization that provides diet-specific meals to local people with life-changing illnesses. The group worked to assemble meals to be shipped out and helped in the organization’s storerooms. The other group worked at Regency House, an apartment complex that provides housing based off of income. The group also delivered grocery bags to residence of the complex.
The second day, one group worked at We Are Family, delivering grocery bags to various D.C. locals who are facing financial difficulties. The other group worked at D.C. Central Kitchen, a community kitchen that serves 5000 meals a day to D.C. area residents in need. It also serves as a culinary school for aspiring chefs. The group spent their day preparing food for the day’s meal deliveries.
The most powerful event of the weekend, though, occurred when the groups reconvened at YSOP one evening, and a special speaker named Alan set the theme for the homelessness awareness. Alan, a former security agent who guarded two presidents, shared the story of his high-paying security job and his descent to homelessness on two separate occasions due to clinical depression. He told the group to take nothing for granted and to always remember that a homeless person is a person too.
Immediately following Alan’s powerful talk, the group set about preparing a meal for local invited homeless. Everyone had specific jobs either preparing food or setting up for the meal.
When the guests arrived that evening, students served them their meals before joining them for dinner, and conversations flowed. The guests for the evening were Ivy League graduates, grandparents, world travelers, and a few who were struggling with mental disabilities. One woman defeated Mollie Gleason ’14 in Jacks, and Jesse Griffin and I lost in a game of Connect Four. Rebecca Ellis ’15, Jessica Gladfelter ’15, and Haley Toresdahl ’15 all worked with a woman to put together a puzzle. Some shared their lives, some shared their struggles. Regardless of how, one thing was true for every one of the trip’s participants: their lives, attitudes, and priorities changed from their experiences on Urban Plunge.