By Rayce Patterson | Echo
Passers-by in Upland may see the seas of gray shirts and think that the local university is being punished for something, but the students are not in trouble. They aren't delinquents, and they don't expect anything in return. In fact, they want to give their time to help the community. The day is called Community Plunge, and it is all about giving back.
Taylor University devised Community Plunge in 1997 as "a complement to the New Student Orientation program," according to a press release given to the SEGway. The purpose of Community Plunge is to give the freshmen and transfer students an introduction to the community surrounding Taylor by briefly serving in it. The Plunge is now in its 20th consecutive year, and it continues to act as a bridge between Taylor University and the people of Upland, with groups such as the Fire Department and the Lions Club being long-term partners.
"Our partnerships (within the Upland community) get stronger as time goes on," senior Jen Cline said.
Cline is in her third year of serving as a Co-Director of Community Outreach, part of Taylor World Outreach. One of the biggest changes to Community Plunge happened last year, when Community Plunge moved from a Thursday to Monday, before classes started. Cline believes this allows for more upperclassmen participation.
Community Plunge has evolved from an exclusive activity for new students to an event that is embraced across campus. Professors and faculty members even schedule their classes to serve during that time.
"It's a chance for professors, faculty and staff to get to know students in an informal way," said Katie Rousopoulos, director of local and global outreach.
This year, in particular, is important for Community Plunge as it lines up with the 150th birthday of Upland. Rousopoulos said this means there is a lot more work to do; roads need to be cleaned up and buildings need to be repainted. There are plenty of hands available for the various jobs, as Rousopoulos estimated over 500 volunteers participate in each year's Community Plunge, acknowledging the number has most likely grown as enrollment has increased.
The continuous problem Community Plunge faces is getting upperclassmen to participate. All students in First Year Experience are required to participate in Community Plunge, as it fills the community service requirement of the course, but remains optional for everyone else on campus. Cline hopes that more upperclassmen will get involved in future Plunges. It's also difficult to get faculty to participate in Community Plunge.
"It's the last day before they start classes," Rousopoulos said. "As a faculty person, I know the time that it takes to get your syllabus ready, prep for class and make sure you're prepared."
Community Plunge provides a great opportunity for Taylor to show the community of Upland that they are not just a dominating presence, but an institution that takes who they are and where they call home. Students kick off the school year by humbling themselves and serving their community.
It is a tradition that builds up instead of tears down and builds lasting relationships.