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Plunging in

The tradition, growth and people of Community Plunge

By Katherine Yeager | Echo

It’s 10:30 a.m. on a Monday in Upland. The streets are quiet, but the Upland Community Fire Department buzzes with activity. Don’t worry, there’s no emergency. Students and community volunteers donning matching gray T-shirts smile and soak each other with spray hoses as they wash the Department’s fire engines. Others scrape chipped paint off posts in order to apply fresh coats.

This is Community Plunge, a Taylor tradition sponsored by TWO’s Community Outreach, co-led this year by junior Jen Cline and sophomore Jonathan Perry. The event began in 1993 in connection with Taylor’s freshman student orientation, according to Director of Student Ministries Mary Rayburn.

Freshman Jasmine Richardson washes a firetruck at the Upland Community Fire Department.

Freshman Jasmine Richardson washes a firetruck at the Upland Community Fire Department. (Photo by Katherine Yeager)

Nearly 500 students participated in this year’s Plunge. 80 participants were upperclassmen, 25 were faculty and staff and at least 20 were community members without a direct connection to the university, according to Taylor’s Director of Local and Global Outreach Katie Rousopoulos. The rest were incoming freshman.

“The Plunge has grown in numbers of participants and scope of partnerships,” Rayburn said. “It started as a partial-day event primarily for new students and has grown to involve an entire day of work for the whole campus community.”

Rayburn remarked that the number of community partners and local residents whom the Plunge serves has also grown over the years. She hopes the event will develop servant leadership in students and spark their interest in involvement with the broader community throughout the academic year.

Rousopoulos noted this year’s increase in the number of participants, adding around 100 additional volunteers this year. She attributes the dramatic shift to the change of date, from Thursday of the first week of classes to the Monday following Welcome Weekend.

This year, volunteers visited a total of 30 locations, from Depot Park to the Upland Police Department. New to the volunteer sites this year is Lifestream, an organization helping the elderly in Grant County. Students volunteering with Lifestream visited two different homes to assist caregivers.

Rousopoulos sees Community Plunge as an opportunity for students to get off campus and interact with each other and community members while engaging in service opportunities.

“It’s our hope that students recognize the importance and value of serving others—not only because it’s a good civic duty, but it’s an important aspect of our Christian faith,” Rousopoulos said. “Jesus set the example for us, and it’s our continual hope to become more and more like Him, so serving others is just one way we strive to do that here and now.”

 Community member Teddy Fode and Freshman Landon Hilst work on a project together.

Community member Teddy Fode and Freshman Landon Hilst work on a project together. (Photo by Katherine Yeager)

The Green Two O-Group spent their day at the fire department. Freshman and Green Two member Landon Hilst assisted fire department volunteer Teddy Fode, a 28-year Upland resident and 8-month fire department volunteer who has served in some capacity in the community for two and a half years.

Fode said Community Plunge has occurred in the community for so long he cannot remember when it began. “It’s good students can help us get stuff done,” Fode said. “We have no time to do some things because we are so busy.”

Indeed, the fire department is busy; according to freshman Caitlin Gaff, an alarm sounded and a fire truck was sent out on a run while Green Two volunteered earlier in the morning.

Gaff and freshman Karissa Crisenbery enjoyed Community Plunge as a means to get to know community members and see volunteers in action. Gaff and Crisenbery, bent over their work, helped prepare poles for fresh paint.

Meanwhile, freshman Jasmine Richardson washed the windshield of a Jefferson Township fire truck alongside several fellow O-Group members and junior volunteer Marga Riggenbach.

Freshman Caitlin Gaff and Karissa Crisenbery scrape chipped paint from a post.

Freshman Caitlin Gaff and Karissa Crisenbery scrape chipped paint from a pole. (Photo by Katherine Yeager)

“I love that all of us are able to volunteer together,” Richardson said. “I see so many people volunteering with their hearts, not grudgingly.”

The truthfulness of her claim is clear. Richardson and her fellow O-Group members engaged in conversations with volunteer firefighters, sharing stories of their lives as they laughed and soaked each other with sprays of water and soap suds.

Though Community Plunge is over for the year, students, faculty and staff are encouraged to dive into various opportunities for community outreach in Upland and the greater Grant County region throughout the year.

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