University of Portland's record-setting incoming freshmen class has not yet started classes, but some have already been assigned their first reading. Their assignment: Barbara Ehrenreich's best-selling investigative book about poverty in America, "Nickel and Dimed."
A total of 810 freshmen students, the largest in the school's 100-plus-year history — is set to start classes on Monday. But prior to that, about 190 freshmen will participate Thursday and Friday in a two-day service project called the Service Plunge.
Hosted by the Moreau Center for Service and Leadership, the Plunge introduces incoming students to the city of Portland as well as the university's core values of teaching, faith, and service. Among the topics of this year's Plunge will be the working poor, homelessness, and hunger.
"The students get a chance to meet other students, learn about the Portland community, experience mass transit and find about the needs in the city," said Kacy Keippela, program assistant for the center and one of the Plunge organizers. "It's a good way to introduce our program (the Moreau Center) to incoming students."
As part of the Plunge experience, participating students sleep on a gym floor at a local elementary school. They will perform service work at more than 20 sites around the city. They also will gather for reflection with student and university leaders.
Other Plunge leaders include Melissa Florer-Bixler, assistant director for the center, and student Kelly Brown, a senior and past participant of the Plunge.
The Plunge projects include assembling food boxes for the Northeast Emergency Food Program, landscaping and repairing playground equipment at the Dougy Center, and washing residents' windows and cars at the Salvation Army Silvercrest site. The student volunteers will organize school supplies for children at the Friendly House, paint at the Kenton Firehouse, and assist a family who owns a farm and has adopted 15 children with disabilities.
The largest project will involve De La Salle North Catholic High School, which will be located at a newly remodeled facility this year after six years of operation. The private school will be housed in the former Kenton Elementary School in north Portland.
"We're very pleased and impressed with how ready they are for our 200-plus students," said Tom Frieberg, director of the Moreau Center for Service and Leadership. "Our students will be assigned as loaders at the old school and unload at the new school. They will be involved in landscaping, moving and installing computers, and disassembling and reassembling furniture."