The University Record, September 12, 1994

Some 400 students took the ‘plunge’

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

While most college freshmen ease into campus life during the fall move-in week, more than 400 new U-M students this year “took the plunge” by participating in a host of community service activities in the Ann Arbor area.

Community Plunge, the centerpiece of Welcome to Michigan ’94, gave students the opportunity to serve their new community by volunteering for a day (Sept. 2) at about 30 social service agencies.

Activities ranged from building Habitat for Humanity houses, serving meals at the Ann Arbor Hunger Coalition, and sorting materials at Recycle Ann Arbor, to doing laundry at the Shelter Association of Ann Arbor, hosting parties for the elderly at the Glacier Hills Retirement and Nursing Center, and cleaning kennels at the Humane Society of Huron Valley.

Community Plunge coordinator Greg Shannon, an LS&A junior, says the student-initiated event was designed to introduce new students to community service activities.

“The goals were to send a positive message about the value and importance of service-learning, to expose students early-on to a range of opportunities related to community service, to welcome students to the University and Ann Arbor communities, and to strengthen the relationship between students, staff, campus groups and community agencies,” he says.

Shannon says he was pleased with the amount of student participation.

“It went very well,” he says. “We had a really good turnout. A lot of people had a great experience and were very eager to get involved, which indicated to me that the event was successful.”

Graduate student Kellie McElhaney, who helped Shannon organize the Plunge, agrees.

“I thought the project was a huge success,” she says. “It was just a powerful day. We had a pretty good percentage of volunteers show up, especially when they had only been on campus for two days. It was really overwhelming to see over 400 students take part.”

Most service activities involved anywhere from five to 50 volunteers, led by upperclassmen, who served as site leaders.

Participants, who either registered by mail during the summer or signed up when they arrived on campus, met at the Michigan League in the morning to receive their random assignments.

Throughout the summer, Julie Lubeck, a junior in the Residential College, and Mona Kumar, an LS&A junior, called on dozens of community service agencies to set up the activities. Both also served as site leaders and say that the agencies involved were grateful for the extra help.

“The teachers were so thankful,” says Lubeck, whose group of volunteers at the Student-Parent Center washed windows, shampooed carpeting and cleaned up a playground. “They really saw a difference and seemed to be really excited.”

Kumar says that students who volunteered were equally excited.

“We’ve had such positive feedback from so many people, to the point where some were saying it’s a life-changing experience,” she says.

McElhaney says that many volunteers told her that they were surprised at how good they felt about participating in community service.

She recalls one student who said he volunteered because “there were a lot of cool chicks signing up for it,” but afterward he said the experience was “probably one of the best days of my life.”

McElhaney says another student who volunteered at a homeless shelter said that “he had no idea people lived like that.” He told her that “now, when I walk by homeless people on the street I’m going to feel like I know a little bit more about where they slept last night and what their conditions are like.”

Another student who helped build a house said that she had never done such physical labor in her life, McElhaney says.

“She was so proud,” McElhaney says. “She couldn’t believe she did it. She said she was going to go back every week, because it was the best thing she’s ever done. So, I think it was also kind of empowering for students to realize they could do these things.”

McElhaney adds that many volunteers were amazed that the University was willing to organize such a program with students who hadn’t even started classes yet.

She also was impressed with the cooperation of local businesses that donated food and materials—Schlotzsky’s Deli, Target Stores, Meijer Inc., Builders Square, Anderson Paint Co. and Sherwin-Williams Co.

Deb Moriarty, director of special projects, Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, says that many University departments also pitched in.

“From the Michigan League, which donated storage space, to the Housing Division, which loaned us carpet cleaners, to the Grounds Department, which let us borrow rakes, shovels and hoes for the day, the campus community rose to the occasion to support this wonderful community program,” she says.

“In my mind, the program is a model for the type of collaboration that is possible for the campus and the community. I believe Community Plunge will become a permanent part of the Welcome to Michigan program.”