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Spring Break Mission Sends Duquesne Students Out, Keeps Them Close

Each spring break, Duquesne University's Spiritan Campus Ministry sends students across the country to serve on cross cultural mission experiences. While Duquesne students' efforts are felt in places such as New Orleans, Immokalee, Fla., and Baileysville, W.Va., a group volunteers time and labor right here in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Plunge is an immersion experience that allows students to see Pittsburgh from, perhaps, an unfamiliar perspective. Students come face-to-face with urban poverty, its impact on neighborhoods and the signs of hope in the city.

"The idea behind the Plunge is to look at communities that have heavy stereotypes as being bad neighborhoods, but in reality are really banding together to make their communities better," said Luci-Jo DiMaggio, assistant director of Spiritan Campus Ministry. "Each year, we hear students say that they had no idea so many good things were happening in these neighborhoods. The idea is to teach students about community assets like access to schools, churches and grocery stores, as well as community connectedness."

This year, 10 students and two staff members took the Plunge from Feb. 25 to Feb. 29.

"Going on the Pittsburgh Plunge gives me the opportunity to learn more about and to further engage with communities in my own area, and to build a foundation in working toward social justice from a Spiritan approach of solidarity that I hope to carry with me into additional service to the community in the future," said participant Alyson Nolte, a sophomore from Carnegie.

Plunge experiences encompassed areas of the Hill District, Hazelwood, Mount Oliver and Downtown, including Hill House and St. Vincent de Paul Society's homeless ministry.

Additionally, the group:

  • Folded clothing at Shepherd's Heart Ministries in Uptown for homeless veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome
  • Shared and learned with the women of the Ujamaa collective in the Hill
  • Painted and cleaned a future performance space at Hazelwood's Center of Life Church
  • Joined seniors for bingo at Ormsby Manor in Mount Oliver
  • Met with food bank representatives
  • Rehabilitated Cliffside Park in the Hill District.

"The experience is far from all about service," DiMaggio said. "There is a large emphasis on educating the group on the neighborhood or issues we are working with, so a big chunk of time is spent just in conversation with people."

Similar Duquesne groups traveled to other sites around the country.

In West Virginia, students work to improve housing conditions and access to food through work on building projects and in food pantries in the state's southern coalfield region. Students learn first-hand about rural underserved areas as they build relationships with community members in Baileysville and the surrounding area.

Additionally, they are delivering about 50 baby blankets created by Duquesne staff and faculty volunteers. The campus community also collected other supplies for the infants and their mothers.

Another group of students traveled to Immokalee to immerse themselves in the migrant farm worker experience. Gaining perspectives on issues such as immigration and access to education, students volunteered with local social service agencies.

Each year since Hurricane Katrina, Duquesne students have traveled to New Orleans to help with reconstruction effort, building homes while learning about socioeconomic disparities.

Spring break isn't the only mission opportunity for Duquesne students. Each summer, a group travels to the Dominican Republic to help run a camp for children at the Spiritan Mission in San Juan de la Maguana. This year's trip is Aug. 6 -13.


Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.