The intent of the Niagara Plunge is to immerse Niagara University freshmen.
Not in freezing water, as was the case when more than 300 new NU students completed the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" last weekend, but rather in the service-based mission that defines the Catholic and Vincentian institution.
Emily Doyle, of Horseheads, initially viewed the plunge as an opportunity to move in to her residence hall before her peers. She quickly learned the Campus Ministry-sponsored program would offer her much more.
"Throughout my first few days at NU, I realized that the plunge has nothing to do with getting a head start on moving in; it's about falling in love with your faith. Once the week ended and I reflected on my service, I came to the conclusion that I not only went out of my comfort zone to perform service for the poor, but I did it with God by my side," she said.
Doyle was one of 25 Niagara freshmen who participated in the program this year, which requires students to forego the final week of their summer vacation to perform community service at numerous locations, including Community Missions, Carolyn's House, Historic Holy Trinity church, Meals on Wheels and Heart, Love and Soul.
It's intended to be an abbreviated version of NU's popular service-immersion experience, Brothers and Sisters in Christ. BASIC participants perform service in areas such as Camden (New Jersey), Philadelphia, Greensboro (North Carolina), St. Louis and the Republic of Panama during semester breaks.
Buffalo native Andrew Hayes, one of this year's "Plungers," was stunned to learn more than 22,400 Niagara Falls residents live on incomes under or near the federal poverty level, according to a study commissioned by The John R. Oishei Foundation.
"From seeing the city to meeting the people in it, I was overwhelmed to hear what having little really means," he said. "Niagara Falls is constantly being seen for its crime and violence, but in it are places and people that have very kind and compassionate hearts. That is one of the things I have experienced; they are there for each other to help one another out, just like the community of Niagara University."
Doyle and Hayes both expressed an appreciation for the ability to get better acquainted with their peers, as well. Friendships often develop through the communal painting, staining, cleaning and general maintenance service provided to underfunded city properties.
"After this week, I can call everyone a part of my family," Hayes said. "Campus ministry is huge at Niagara University. We stick together as a family and we are constantly praying for each other and for everyone we meet. One of the reasons why I came to Niagara University was the community and the community service that is very strong in this university."
"Having the opportunity to share my love for faith with my peers who I will be with for my journey at NU was truly an honor," Doyle said. "I am extremely blessed to have been a part of the NU plunge. I have made friends I will have forever, and because of this experience, my faith is the strongest it's ever been. I cannot wait to apply to lead a new group of 'Plungers' next year."
To learn more about Niagara University, visit www.niagara.edu.