By Katie Rutledge ’04
Service Program Director
Notre Dame students annually take an “Urban Plunge” to learn about poverty near their homes, and alumni in the Cincinnati area recently decided to experience this program for themselves.
Over the September football-bye weekend, eight men participated in the “Adult Urban Plunge,” sponsored by the Notre Dame Club of Cincinnati. They stayed at the Oznam Center for Service Learning in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.
Architecture alumni John Reynolds ’82 and Mark Bruggeman ’78, who spearheaded this effort, said of the neighborhood, “Nowhere else in Cincinnati can you experience (the city’s) cultural extremes: the Drop Inn shelter and Music Hall within a block of each other, trendy restaurants and soup kitchens, Section 8 housing and renovated loft space.”
In January, close to 250 students will study urban poverty while at home on break. As part of the Urban Plunge, a one-credit course offered by the Center for Social Concerns, students stay for two to three days in the downtowns of major cities close to where their families live. This experience allows students to see another side of urban living, one beyond news reports and crime statistics or nightlife and sporting events.
The two days for the alumni were packed with activities designed to take the conversations about urban poverty out of the polarizing political realm and introduce participants to the men and women living in Over-the-Rhine and their daily struggles.
The men made home visits to people in need with St. Vincent de Paul; they lunched at Venice on the Vine, a pizza shop operated by religious sisters to train residents in the food service industry; they listened to young men talk personally about gun and drug violence, incarceration, and their plans for the future with support of the HELP Program, run by a Marianist brother; they went to St. Peter Claver’s Latin classrooms for neighborhood boys; and they shared stories and breakfast with Tender Mercies’ residents. The club also partnered with the Miami University’s Center for Social Engagement, taking a historical walking tour of Over-the-Rhine and learning about its buildings, institutions, and people.
Chaperoning his eldest two daughters on their first Urban Plunge inspired Bruggeman to look for a way to replicate the experience for alumni.
“Tangentially experiencing (my daughters’) trek through the richness of the neighborhood and its people as the overnight monitor in the St Vincent de Paul hostel, it became apparent that the experience was too good to be kept by the kids,” he said.
Several participants said the experience widened their understanding of what it means to serve.
“The St Vincent de Paul staff and volunteers … showed in their actions the difference between ‘helping,’ an unequal relationship which can diminish both parties, and ‘serving,’ an equal relationship that acknowledges dignity in both,” said John Planalp ’73, a chemical engineering graduate and Proctor & Gamble veteran manager.
Paul Dillenburger ’71, a participant and the club service chair, said the Plunge was another way to integrate community service into the club’s mission. The Cincinnati club plans to make this an annual event for alumni, but Mark points out that this program is just one of the ways Notre Dame alumni are active in their communities.
“In comparison to what Notre Dame people regularly bring to their communities, we have accomplished little for the people we met,” he said. “But we hope to foster relationships over the coming years and share with local alums the many opportunities to get involved.”
Since the Plunge, participants have already shared additional volunteer hours and pro bono services with their new neighborhood friends and associates.
For more information or to discuss starting an “Adult Urban Plunge” in your hometown, please contact Mark Bruggeman at 513-315-1788 or mbruggeman@tipmLLC.com.