Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Students Take 'Urban Plunge'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Students Take 'Urban Plunge'

Article excerpt

They could have soaked up the sun by the sand and the sea at Daytona Beach, Panama City or West Palm Beach.

They could have put their overworked brains on hold, waltzed to water's edge with thousands of other spring-breakers and taken the plunge.

Instead, they came to downtown Jacksonville for a different kind of "plunge."

Twenty-three young adults from James Madison University (Harrisonburg, Va.) and the University of Mobile (Ala.) were in Jacksonville last week, not taking an ocean plunge but an "Urban Plunge."

While thousands of their peers hit the beaches for relaxation and revelry, the visiting students were working long hours in community service activities to better Jacksonville's inner city.

The students were in Jacksonville as part of a program conducted by Jacksonville's Urban Ministries and its parent group, FreshMinistries, non-profit organizations in Springfield dedicated to promoting economic development of the inner city.

And they were plenty busy. Among other activities, the students:

-- Spent two days helping refurbish St. John's Horizon House, a residence for HIV/AIDS clients.

-- Served food at the City Rescue Mission every day.

-- Spent two days helping build a HabiJax home.

The students spent the nights at their own shelter at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church.

"Just as a human being, I'm finding this to be a very centering experience. I feel totally connected and renewed," said Silvana Ritacco, one of the leaders of the 12-member James Madison University group, which had just returned from cleaning, painting and gardening at St. John's Horizon House.

"Not only is it fulfilling, but it's been a very eye-opening experience as well," Ritacco said.

"We'd kind of assumed that many of the AIDS clients would be sickly or depressed. But they weren't at all. They were so full of life, laughing all the time. They seemed to enjoy the energy a bunch of college students brought to the place. I did this last year, so I knew it would be fulfilling. I just didn't realize how much fun it would be."

Adrian Cassy, leader of the University of Mobile group, said simply: "I have a heart that wants to serve. …

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