More than 540 first-year St. Ambrose University students took the "Urban Plunge" on Monday, diving into volunteering around the Quad-Cities. The program, coordinated as a part of the university's "Welcome Week," sent freshmen and new transfer students to 28 different service sites in the area. 

"We want our new students, our new Ambrosians, acclimated to our culture of service right away," said Jane Kettering, the university's director of media relations. "They moved in yesterday and are volunteering today. That’s the Ambrosian way."

Kettering said 93 percent of the freshman class participated in the event.

"That’s just an amazing number," she said. "I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it."

She said the event, which has been running strong for about eight years, was not mandatory but highly encouraged.

"It helps those who are new to the Quad-Cities broaden their horizons as to what's out there in the community," she said.

Kelly Bush, director of co-curricular service and justice ministry at St. Ambrose, said some of the more unusual volunteering opportunities included spending time doing life interviews with the elderly at the Kahl Home, painting light posts on Harrison Street in the Hilltop Campus Village and doing yard work for the horse therapy organization, Juan Diez Rancheros.

"St. Ambrose has a rich history in social justice," Bush said. "The Urban Plunge is about matching students' gifts to the world's needs. It's about building relationships and serving one another."