Not every St. Ambrose student soaked in the essential lesson of Urban Plunge quite as fully as did Grace Filipski.
A junior majoring in psychology and theology, Filipski clearly has embraced the Ambrosian commitment to service exemplified by the Plunge, a staple Welcome Week program that involves nearly all first-year, and many transfer students, in community service projects two days prior to the start of every academic year.
While participating in the Plunge as a volunteer student organizer on Monday, Aug. 18, she literally gave an SAU newcomer the shirt off her back when the supply of small powder blue Plunge T-shirts ran out.
"This is one of my favorite events," said Filipski, who later joined a busload of first-time Plungers in painting halls and bathrooms for Transitions Mental Health Services in Rock Island, Ill. "I liked my first Urban Plunge so much I want to do it every year I am here. As part of the Student Government Association, I helped last year and now this year. And I want to do it again next year."
Filipski joined 520 students, 35 peer assistants and 40 SAU faculty and staff supervisors in Urban Plunge 2014, which assisted 30 municipal and non-profit organizations throughout the Quad Cities.
The Plunge first became part of the New Student Seminar program in 2006, although Rev. Charles Adam, SAU chaplain and director of Campus Ministry, said first-week service projects have been a part of the welcoming process at St. Ambrose for considerably longer.
Introducing Urban Plunge as a prominent part of the Welcome Week schedule has pushed new student participation beyond 90 percent, Fr. Adam said.
In addition to introducing the concept of service, the Plunge gets new students engaged with one another. "When they are working together, they talk and they form great bonds," Fr. Adam said. "Many of the friendships formed today will last through their senior year and beyond."
Grace Filipski had a pretty good idea of what to expect when she reported for Urban Plunge two years ago. Her older brother Jeffrey '11 already had informed her that "St. Ambrose stands for service," she said.
"I just remember being really excited," said Grace, who welcomed younger brother Matthew to St. Ambrose and the Urban Plunge this year. "It was like I was joining the community of Ambrosians who came before me."
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Although Urban Plunge is an early lesson in volunteerism for new students, its message often resonates throughout a student's St. Ambrose career and beyond. Here are some testimonials to its impact from recent graduates.
"I took quite a few things away from my Urban Plunge experience. The first was the importance of teamwork. My New Student Seminar group found ourselves in a location that required partners for the work we did. This simultaneously helped me befriend new students, because while we worked, we took the time to get to know one another.
"It helped being with my NSS group because this was a group of students I'd be working with for an entire semester. I also learned a bit more about the downtown area, and ways that I could help. The shelter group we worked with filled us in on a handful of volunteer opportunities for the downtown area.
"I wouldn't say it was hot and miserable, but it wasn't necessarily a walk in the park. We pulled weeds and organized a few rooms during a time humidity decided to come and play, too. But looking back on the experience, it was definitely rewarding to see how we helped make a difference for the organization. You could tell by the time we left, the folks we were helping were relieved to have had the assistance. "
"For me, Urban Plunge was an opportunity to see the mission of the university that I chose to spend the next four years of my life put into action.
"I remember it being exciting to feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself, something that I believed in and could be proud of.
"Urban Plunge was one of my first realizations that SAU had the ability to present opportunities for great growth beyond my education."
"I pulled weeds from the St. Vincent's Center garden during my first Urban Plunge in 2010. The two hours of community service presented an opportunity to meet fellow freshmen who, like myself, were eager to form friendships before the first day of school.
"I must admit I wasn't initially thrilled to learn I would be working in a garden on a humid August morning, but it was easy to forget the heat and sweat because I enjoyed interacting with my New Student Seminar classmates.
"My favorite aspect of Urban Plunge was learning how my peers, who were raised in different states and graduated from separate high schools, ended up together in a garden in Davenport. It was then that I learned that St. Ambrose University is an institution comprised of unique individuals dedicated to forming a community focused on service to others.
"While participating in Urban Plunge I met Jake Burd, who shared residency with me as a member of the third floor of Cosgrove Hall. We immediately became good friends, hanging out in each other's rooms. I lived on the same floor as Jake our sophomore year in Rohlman Hall, and we shared a townhouse during my junior and senior years. Urban Plunge was the beginning of a friendship that is still ongoing four years later. "
"My urban plunge was pretty productive. We went to the old Sacred Heart school building. We cleaned the classrooms and I think we all bonded a little in the fact that we were awoken early the first day at college to clean cobwebs and desks.
"The Sisters were so grateful for our service, and it left me with that feel good feeling knowing that we were doing something for little ones to grow in their faith (it was being turned into a Sunday school). Little did I know that was the start of growing in my faith and learning at SAU.
"It also didn't hurt that a girl I talked to that day in my group became a bestie and one of my forever friends."
"Urban Plunge was where I met friends that I still talk to on a weekly basis, and that was seven years ago!
Nothing brings a campus community together better than doing a collaborative good deed."
"Looking back, there was no better way to begin my Ambrosian journey than to participate in Urban Plunge with my newfound classmates and colleagues. My New Student Seminar group had the opportunity to help out at United Neighbors on Harrison Street approaching Davenport's downtown area.
"By no means were the tasks glamorous; however, that's not the point. I quickly discovered the real value that this kind of experience holds. First, the culture of service at St. Ambrose was evident and clear. Second, this was a tremendous opportunity to meet individuals as I stepped into a new phase of my life. All considered, I immediately realized that St. Ambrose would be a place where learning and development would be plentiful."
"I took the Urban Plunge with my first-year learning community and we had a blast. Most of us spent the day picking up trash along the railroad downtown and also sorting donations at the Humility of Mary Shelter.
"First, it was a great way to connect and notice I wasn't the only one who was beyond excited but also totally freaking out. The morning gave me some friends by default and I graduated still friends with nearly everyone from my learning community.
"Reflecting back, Urban Plunge really represents what Ambrose is all about. The day set me up to be ready for all of the other service based learning activities I would be experiencing in the next four years. Community development, engagement, service, connectedness — these are all things Ambrose promotes every day in the lives of all students.
"Although as a freshman I may not have been thrilled to board a bus at 8 a.m. after move-in day to go pick up trash, I sure am thankful I did. Ambrose is the real deal and they let us not only talk-the-talk but walk-the-walk right off the bat."