New NU Students ‘Plunge’ into Service Learning

September 3, 2015  |  by Michael Freedman

  • Twenty-eight NU freshmen and 14 student-leaders participated in this year's Niagara Plunge.

    Twenty-eight NU freshmen and 14 student-leaders participated in this year's Niagara Plunge.

  • Students perform rehabilitation work outside of Historic Holy Trinity church in Niagara Falls.

    Students perform rehabilitation work outside of Historic Holy Trinity church in Niagara Falls.

  • NU freshmen team with ReNU Niagara to perform gardening and cleanup work at a pocket park in Niagara Falls.

    NU freshmen team with ReNU Niagara to perform gardening and cleanup work at a pocket park in Niagara Falls.

  • Participants of the 2015 Niagara Plunge pose for a photo after assisting at Historic Holy Trinity church.

    Participants of the 2015 Niagara Plunge pose for a photo after assisting at Historic Holy Trinity church.

  • Love is in the air - and the parking lot - at Historic Holy Trinity.

    Love is in the air - and the parking lot - at Historic Holy Trinity.

  • Niagara Plunge participants unwind with a group trip to Niagara Falls State Park and a voyage aboard the Maid of the Mist.

    Niagara Plunge participants unwind with a group trip to Niagara Falls State Park and a voyage aboard the Maid of the Mist.

Twenty-eight freshmen moved into Niagara University last Tuesday morning, four days before their fellow first-year students arrived on campus.

Their purpose: To serve the neighboring communities of their adopted home.

Through the university’s Niagara Plunge program, the new students performed an assortment of contributive activities at Niagara Falls-based nonprofits, including the Francis Center, Community Missions, Carolyn’s House, Historic Holy Trinity church, Summit Life Outreach, the Aquarium of Niagara, and Heart, Love and Soul.

As a Churchville, Md., native, Amanda Brannan had no affiliation with any of the Niagara County-based organization that the Plunge serves. But Brannan was very involved in community-minded activities in high school, where she performed more than 400 hours of service. She said she chose NU based partly on the university’s mission of helping those in need.

“I knew that I’d be able to continue my love of service at Niagara,” said Brannan, who is studying hospitality and tourism management.

Similarly, Amber Thiel, of West Valley, N.Y., admitted that service opportunities were high on her list of requirements when selecting which college to attend.

“When considering schools, I initially chose three where community service was a major factor in graduating,” explained Thiel, a marketing major. “I decided on Niagara because their service programs were a step above the other programs. After completing my Plunge week, I can confirm that to be true. I worked with so many people this week who cared so much and had all this passion for the people of the Niagara community.”

Brannan and Thiel also relished the chance to get a jump start on moving into their residence halls and meeting their peers. It was evident that the seeds of friendships were being sown among the young people who shared a common interest in altruism.

“I am really glad I participated because you not only do service projects, but you also get to meet some new people. I feel comfortable around everyone here, even the Plunge leaders. Everyone who put this program together really did a great job,” Brannan said.

The Niagara Plunge is intended to be an abbreviated version of NU’s popular service-immersion experience, Brothers and Sisters in Christ. BASIC participants perform service in areas like Camden (N.J.), Philadelphia (Pa.), Greensboro (N.C.), St. Louis (Miss.) and the Republic of Panama during semester breaks.

Thiel signed up to participate during winter break the same day the Plunge concluded.

“After this experience I want to do more with Campus Ministry. I want to be a part of something greater than me.”