Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Summer ‘Plunge Inn’ experience introduces high schoolers to realities of urban poverty

by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff

(From the June 10, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

High school students in the Spokane Diocese have another opportunity to ‘Plunge Inn’ to inner-city Spokane life. The Parish Services Office at the Diocese of Spokane is offering a summer Plunge Inn, Sunday, July 25 – Wednesday, July 28.

Plunge Inn is an opportunity for high school students to experience and try to understand the reality of life for low-income people in the Spokane community. Participants spend three days and three nights sleeping in uncomfortable conditions, eating very simple foods, working at homeless shelters and day centers, and learning about and offering solutions for the problems of poverty and homelessness.

Paul Mach, the Youth Consultant for the Diocese of Spokane, is heading the organization and planning of Plunge Inn. He believes the Plunge Inn experience is valuable because it gives youth a unique perspective on poverty.

“Anyone can come and do service at a location and then go home,” he said, “but to actually live in a situation of low income is an incredibly powerful experience.”

According to Mach, parish youth groups in the diocese have offered programs similar to Plunge Inn in the past, but the diocesan wide Plunge Inn is an opportunity for any high school student in Spokane to partake in the service and awareness event.

Students and chaperones begin the service week by meeting on Sunday evening to spend some time planning, organizing and getting to know one another. The next morning, the real experience begins. Participants must either walk or take a bus to the meeting place on Monday morning. Each day, students are provided with a very simple breakfast and dinner and $1.50 for lunch. Each day is broken into two shifts, a morning and an afternoon, spent at two different work sites. After working all day, students spend one evening hearing from a speaker about poverty and homelessness and attempting to brainstorm creative solutions to what seem to be overwhelming problems. The next evening, students get to hear from and interact with people who have actually been homeless.

Participants will sleep in sleeping bags on the floor of a parish hall. They will walk or take the bus everywhere, and refrain from showering for the duration of the event. If students choose to fast for their lunch meal or eat at a soup kitchen, the money left over is donated to a charity. Mach said that last year they donated over $30 of the $108 allotted for meals.

Students are supervised throughout the duration of the event by adult volunteers who accompany participants everywhere.

Lisa Trenter, a senior at Central Valley High School and member of St. John Vianney Parish, has participated in Plunge Inn twice.

“It’s an eye-opening and very humbling experience,” she said. “I live in a nice house and so I don’t get to see a lot of what goes on in the streets. I think I really learned to appreciate my family, because even though sometimes I hate my sister, a lot of (the people she encountered) don’t have anyone at all. They’re all alone. I also learned to respect everyone and treat everyone equally. I feel like I can talk to anyone and feel comfortable with anyone because I got to interact with so many unique people.”

Plunge Inn participants are dispersed to various work sites in groups depending on the needs of the organization.

All the work sites for the day shifts must be within walking distance of downtown or a bus-line. In the past, Plunge Inn has helped such organizations as the House of Charity, Habitat for Humanity, the AIDs Network, Volunteer Chore Services, St. Margaret Shelter, St. Anne Children’s Home, and many other shelters, food banks and service organizations.

Plunge Inn aims at creating greater awareness among youth of the gospel call to service and justice. The event is meant to help youth serve the Spokane community and help to effect social change, while at the same time acquiring leadership skills and addressing fears and false impressions about life in the inner city.

“It’s not about getting service hours,” said Mach. “It’s about actually living the experience. That’s the key thing.”

Cost for Plunge Inn is $35. For more information or to sign up, call or email Paul Mach at (509) 358-7302 or

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