Urban Plunge installing electric fencing at NVTRP.
Spring break can mean so many things to different people. Just in hearing the term we think of white sandy beaches, sleeping in late and of course the end of winter. However, spring break means something entirely different to a group of youth from Springfield: it means an opportunity to serve others.
Each spring break at Messiah United Methodist Church begins with an opportunity for the church youth to serve others within the D.C. metro area. This is not a plush service project where people stay in hotels or travel to exotic locations. These youth stay right here in our local area, sleeping and eating in their church youth center and provide service to help others. This is a longstanding service project within the church, with 2013 being the 20th anniversary of the mission project, called Urban Plunge.
The impact these junior and senior high school students make goes well beyond the actual work product that is created, which is significant. This impact brings hope, joy and a sense of caring to people who have never before met these youth. These youth spend four-and-a-half days in a wide variety of service projects ranging from working with small children in southeast D.C. daycare centers, working to prepare meals at the D.C. Central Kitchen, The Northern VA Therapeutic Riding Program, Food for Others, SERVE and the Soldiers Home in Washington, D.C., just to name a few of the projects.
In speaking with Urban Plunge Program Coordinator Deb Meighen, she stated that “we can serve so many different organizations because the team of 48 youth and adults breaks into four smaller groups each day, with each group of 12 independently working pre-arranged projects. Both the adult chaperones and the youth are simply amazing with sharing their gifts, talents and time.
“These youth are taken out of their comfort zones, away from their homes, their game systems, their cell phones and many of their friends. These youth come to serve with a joyous heart and a boundless desire to make our world a little better place,” she said. Some of these programs have been supported annually by Urban Plunge while others are added each year.
Of course the impact of this program is felt inside the church as well. “Each of these youth are growing to know themselves and their faith a little better every day,” says Monty Holcombe, one of the longtime adult leaders of the program. Many of these youth continue to serve on Urban Plunge year after year, realizing the importance of their work and learning that you can sometimes even have fun while you make what might be an important difference in someone’s life.
On a bright but cool Saturday afternoon, Linda Aikey of the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program (NVTRP) addressed the group after they had painted, installed an electric fence, landscaped, installed a new floor and improved a therapy room: “You can look around you and see the impact you have had today! Our organization depends upon volunteers like you to make sure that the property can be maintained and so that the Therapeutic Riding Program staff can dedicate their time to the NVTRP clients.”
For these students, spring break is a time to make a fresh start and a positive difference for others. Over the years hundreds of youth have participated in this program and have volunteered many thousands of hours.