First year Park Scholars moved, mulched, and made a difference through Community Plunge

First year Park Scholars moved, mulched, and made a difference through Community Plunge

By: John Vogan ‘14

Before the very first textbook readings and homework of the new school year had been assigned, the Park Scholar Class of 2015 joined their first-year peers in a weekend full of service through Community Plunge. The program literally gave students the chance to get down and dirty in an effort to help community organizations like the Ithaca Children’s Garden and Finger Lakes ReUse Center.

This year marked the 13th annual Community Plunge experience, which is the oldest of the four experiences Ithaca College offers to first-year students through the Jumpstart program. Echo, the outdoor camping program; Sustainable Community Challenge (SCC); and Lead-In are also options. Freshman Park Scholar Bethany George was surprised by how Plunge helped students become involved as soon as they arrived on campus.

“I thought Plunge was going to be easy, and I was wrong!” said George. “My anticipation was that we’d go and help sort paperwork or do small tasks, but it was a lot of hard work that really made a difference.”

George said she and her group worked together to empty an entire cargo container filled with heavy desk equipment and filing cabinets that were donated to the ReUse Center.

“It was really strenuous,” said George, “but it really helped.” The Finger Lakes ReUse Center is a non-profit organization that dedicates itself to helping local communities benefit from reuse by reducing waste, relieving poverty, and teaching job skills.

Fellow freshman Park Scholar Emily LaPierre also got to help the ReUse Center on day two of Plunge weekend.

“We helped get all of the furniture that the volunteers had moved in the first day organized in nice displays for their big Labor Day sale,” said LaPierre. “It was a lot of work, but the end result was worth it.”

On the second day of Plunge, George and her group visited the Ithaca Children’s Garden, where they completed a variety of projects, including weeding, composting, repainting, and repairing.

The participants liked getting the opportunity to see more of the community throughout Plunge. “That was really interesting and exciting to go to new places, since I’m not from anywhere around here,” said George, who hails from Red Lodge, Montana.

In addition to the 13 freshmen Park Scholars, eight upperclassmen Park Scholars returned to the Jumpstart program as Plunge leaders.

“I had a really great Community Plunge experience my freshman year,” said sophomore Isabel Galupo, who remembered how it felt to make a positive impact in the lives of others. “My first day we went on a Habitat build, which I had never done before. It was particularly meaningful to me because we were insulating the house, which, they explained, was important because of how cold it gets in the winter.”

Galupo and sophomore Sarah Parker led their group as they volunteered at the local SPCA and United Methodist Church.

“I decided to be a Plunge leader not only because I wanted to meet the new freshmen,” said Parker, “but also to make a difference in their transition into college and help create a more enjoyable and less stressful experience.”

At the SPCA, the group worked outside, mulched around trees, weeded, moved rocks, and then socialized with the cats and dogs for the last part of the day. At the church they washed windows, swept floors, and made improvements to the garden, including more mulching.

“There was a surprising amount of mulching that weekend,” joked Galupo.

Prior to participating in Community Plunge, the freshmen joined another six upperclassmen leaders for the Park Scholar Orientation, which also prepared them for the collaborative Plunge experience.

“The ropes course was definitely the most memorable experience from that,” said LaPierre. “It was refreshing because I really felt the support of the other Park Scholars. We gave each other encouragement to take challenges, like climbing up a tall pole and jumping into mid-air.” Even though they had just met, George and LaPierre felt they could rely on each and the rest of the Park Scholar class for support.

Overall, the Park Scholars enjoyed their time in both the Park Scholar Orientation and Community Plunge, and are looking forward to the various forms of service they’ll commit to this year.

“It was great because we could actually see the transformation that our efforts were creating,” said George. “We helped the community right from the get-go and you could tell that they needed and appreciated it. They deserve our help because the missions they’re trying to accomplish really help everyone.”

Originally published in Park Scholar Program: First year Park Scholars moved, mulched, and made a difference through Community Plunge.