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Plunging Into Service, Friendships

Lauren Willson and Branda Jordan

Lauren Willson and Branda Jordan at work at Gilda's Club

August 2017

Lauren Willson and Branda Jordan sat side by side, chatting amicably while cleaning and re-arranging a book shelf at Gilda's Club, a Victorian-era mansion on a Davenport hilltop where people impacted by cancer have found support, education, and hope for nearly 20 years.

The two first-year St. Ambrose students quickly discovered each has a parent who is a nurse. They also learned they share a passion for helping special needs children. And they discovered they live on the same floor in Cosgrove Hall.

As the quiet conversation went along, an eavesdropper couldn't help but remember the many alumni over the past 10 years who have mentioned the lasting friendships they formed through an introduction to Ambrosian service called Urban Plunge.

On Monday, Aug. 21, Lauren and Branda were among more than 500 new students who fanned out across the Quad Cities to help nonprofit organizations such as Gilda's Club and the River Bend Foodbank with the kind of detailed work they rely on from volunteers.

At the food bank warehouse in west Davenport, some 80 students helped bag goods for a program that sends food home each weekend with students who qualify for free lunch. The SAU volunteers also helped box food collected this past summer by regional mail carriers. Families in need will take those boxes home.

The student workforce was nearly double what the food bank organizers had expected. That's because a group of cross country and track and field athletes who were scheduled to weed steep hillsides for elderly homeowners living close to campus had to find an inside activity when it rained on the Plunge for the first time ever. Head track and field coach Dan Tomlin '05, '10 MBA said he and a team of athletes will attack the hillside weeds in the coming weeks. "Those people rely on us to get that done," he said.

At the warehouse, distance runner John Sabotta actually got a morning workout. He was part of a parade of students who circled others stationed by boxes of donated food which they dropped into bags held open, trick-or-treat style, by the circling students. These will be the backpacks that provide underfed school kids weekend meals.

Zoerae Lozano manned one stationary position, dropping juice boxes one at a time into hundreds of bags. It wasn't exactly how she envisioned spending her first morning on campus, she confessed. "Sleeping in and not doing anything" she said, laughing, when asked what were her original expectations. But she added of the Plunge experience, "I really like the aspect of giving back. I really like it a lot."

As part of the circling group, John estimated he'd walked two miles by mid-morning, a good warm up for a distance runner. He also socialized. "I've talked to quite a few people I hadn't met yet," he said. "It's really nice to get to know the people in my class."

At Gilda's Club, a dozen or so students, including Lauren and Branda, dusted, vacuumed, washed windows, and cleaned the large home overlooking the Mississippi River. It is in this home-like setting where cancer survivors and health professionals counsel people currently battling the disease.

On arrival, neither young woman was familiar with the late comedian Gilda Radner nor the support network created as her legacy. Now, both are thinking about volunteering at Gilda's Club on a regular basis this year. "The experience really opened my eyes to realize we must live every day as if it's our last with a positive attitude," Branda said. "Helping those in need is the least one can do. "

The two students also enjoyed making a new friend.

When told Plunge acquaintances often remain close throughout their years at St. Ambrose and beyond, each woman paused, seemingly to consider the possibility. Then, big smiles.

"That's awesome," they said in unison.


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