By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — More than 560 freshmen and transfer students spent Monday morning volunteering at various sites throughout the Quad-City area as part of the St. Ambrose University “Urban Plunge.”
The plunge is part of St. Ambrose’s welcome week activities. New students moved onto campus Sunday, volunteered Monday and participated in other orientation activities before the start of classes Wednesday.
In the past, the Urban Plunge has been optional. This year it is a requirement, said Stella O’Rourke, campus minister at St. Ambrose.
About 30 agencies in the area had students do volunteer work such as painting railings along the Mississippi River, cleaning yards, pulling weeds, visiting senior citizens and more.
“We have a foundation of organizations we send students to for service projects throughout the year,” O’Rourke said. “Service is very much a part of our culture at St. Ambrose.”
A group of students enrolled in a learning community class went to the Kahl Home for the Aged and Infirm in Davenport.
Rosalie Thomas, administrator of the Kahl Home, talked to the students about the importance of volunteerism and how maintaining volunteerism after their projects are done can make life fuller.
Students watched a video on the Kahl Home’s history. Then Denise Reed, activities director at the Kahl Home, explained its mission and talked about the semester-long project the students would be working on: the life stories of 45 individuals.
Over the semester the students will meet with the residents to record their life stories, contact their families for additional information and photos, and produce a DVD featuring the individual’s life history.
The residents’ favorite day is Tuesday, Reed said, because that’s when completed life stories have been viewed. “It’s meaningful to them. They see their life has a purpose. These stories also help the staff to get familiarized with the residents.”
Another group of students did cleanup work in the Central Community neighborhood of Sixth and Vine streets in Davenport. Some students pulled weeds from the toddler playground area. Others picked up trash, while others planted bushes and plants. Another group was to serve a meal at Café on Vine.
Another 35 or so students helped spruce up the grounds at St. Vincent Center, which is headquarters for the Diocese of Davenport. There students spread mulch around trees and in the priests’ gardens. Then the students helped sweep out garages for the retired priests who live at the center.
Other sites the new students worked at included Nahant Marsh, Humility of Mary Housing Inc. in Davenport and along the bike path in Rock Island, Ill., and Sunset Marina in Rock Island.
“Lifelong service is part of what it means to be an Ambrosian,” says Mackenzie Grondahl, director of service learning. “With ‘Urban Plunge’ we hope to strengthen our new students’ commitment to this practice of service and social justice.”
She said St. Ambrose works closely with partner agencies and businesses in the area and through face-to-face meetings the university felt there was a need for help. “Our partners were excited to have us there.
“It was an amazing first effort.” Grondahl said there may be some changes next year and some tightening up, but she felt the day was a success.
Grondahl said a number of students were hesitant to do the work when they started the day, but felt they had accomplished something when it was done.
“This was a great group of kids” and most came to St. Ambrose with community service experience. So this was nothing new to many of them.