Eight students spent the weekend of March 4-6 in downtown Cincinnati serving those in need in as part of the annual Urban Plunge.
"This mission trip is less focused on service and is more focused on student interaction with the poor," explained chaperone and CJ's Director of Admissions, Brett Chmiel '02. "Students live in solidarity with the poor. They gain an understanding of the social injustices and hardships that the poor face each day. They connect to the heart of the poor and their experience allows them to reflect on the importance of their own struggles and how each person deserves to live with dignity and respect."
The group left CJ on Friday morning and went to St. Vincent de Paul to serve meals and help people in need through the food pantry. Later in the day, students walked through the inner west side of Cincinnati and Over-The-Rhine to meet with residents and learn more about their community.
"My favorite experience on the Urban Plunge was walking around the neighborhood, talking to people on the streets and listening to their views and opinions on the city and its changes," shared Andrew Buchanan '18. "Everyone who we talked to over the weekend had their own unique story and it was incredible to listen to them."
Chaperone and CJ counselor Jama Badinghaus added, "My favorite part of the weekend was witnessing the humility of those who work everyday to serve those who many would classify as 'the least among us.' There was an undeniable holiness that radiated from those who are intentionally feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the ill, visiting those in prison, and sheltering the homeless on a daily basis. In this Jubilee of Mercy. their work is especially inspiring and is a wonderful reminder of our call as Christians to care for all of our sisters and brothers."
On Friday, students also participated in a simulation called the Kroger SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) challenge.
"We were given a small amount of money to shop and make a meal for everyone," said Jordan Thomasson '16. "It was a poverty simulation, so we were given the same amount as someone who is struggling would have."
Mo Zopff '16 added, "I was able to experience what it's like to go grocery shopping for a certain amount of people with a certain amount of money."
"Students took the experience very seriously," noted Chmiel. "They were commended greatly by St. Vincent De Paul staff for their work and attitude. They did a wonderful job buying into the experience of living in solidarity with the poor."
On Saturday, the group held two prayer services, took a tour of the Mary Magdalen House, and had dinner with the homeless at the Center for Respite Care. On Sunday, the group attended Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church and had lunch with church parishioners before heading back to Dayton.
"I think Urban Plunge is a great way to learn about poverty and homelessness," said Zopff. " I learned a lot about poverty and homelessness through the stories and experiences of others, the challenges or games we did, group discussions, quiet reflection, and prayer."
Buchanan added, "I experienced firsthand the poverty in Cincinnati. You can listen about poverty in a presentation but it's completely different to be out there on the streets, in their homes and talking to them face to face."
"The Urban Plunge allows students to ask questions about how to combat issues of justice in our communities in a way that is very tangible as the issues are relevant to the local community and the region," noted Badinghaus. "The experience is guided by professionals who work with the people in the community. The experience is an immersion into the culture of poverty and an experience of growing in understanding of our relationship with those individuals more than it is focused on providing short-term service to a population. The weekend provided a deep spirit of walking with people rather than providing for people."
Thomasson offered this to students interested in attending the mission trip next year, "If you are considering going on Urban Plunge you should most definitely go! The trip is not like other retreats and you'll have an amazing experience."
Photos Courtesy: Mo Zopff