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Urban Plunge event shows teens how poor, homeless live in urban areas

Ashley Glanzer, 15, and Mikayla Weiss, 15, both of Mount Vernon, clean walkers for Hope Haven International, an organization that helps people living with disabilities in developing countries, on Saturday in Sioux Falls. A youth group from Mitchell Wesleyan Church participated in Urban Plunge this past weekend. (Chris Mueller/Republic)

SIOUX FALLS — Denver McFarlane expected to be bored. He wasn’t.

“Seeing this, it makes me want to give more,” he said.

Tara Thill was nervous at first. Later, she said the experience was life changing.

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“When I got here, I saw what was truly going on and how the world is really working,” she said.

McFarlane, 16, and Thill, 16, both of Mitchell, were part of a 12-person youth group from Mitchell Wesleyan Church that participated in Urban Plunge this past weekend. The event exposed them to the condition of the poor and homeless living in the urban areas of Sioux Falls.

“I just want them to see that, no matter what your economic situation, people are people,” said Renee Berg, an art teacher at Mitchell Middle School who has been involved in youth ministry at Mitchell Wesleyan Church for many years.

Mitchell Wesleyan Church has taken youth groups on mission trips to Mexico for the past eight years, Berg said, but wanted to show them that they could also volunteer and serve people in need closer to home.

“I wanted them to be more involved in some local ministries, and to serve locally,” Berg said.

Kevin Skogstad, with Christ for the City International of Omaha, Neb., led the youth group on its Urban Plunge. In addition to Sioux Falls, the organization leads groups on Urban Plunges in Omaha; Lincoln, Neb.; Des Moines, Iowa; Kansas City, Mo.; and Dallas, Texas.

The experience, Skogstad said, is meant to change young peoples’ mindset about the poor or homeless.

“So they’re not so fearful of them,” he said. “So they’re able to at least have some conversation and relate to them as human beings.”  

The Urban Plunge began Friday night at Bowden Youth Center, which offers an after-school program for inner-city youth in Sioux Falls.

“A lot of the kids there come from families where it’s a struggle,” McFarlane said. “A huge struggle.”

There, the youth group served a Thanksgiving meal and later visited and played games with the children. The atmosphere, McFarlane said, was not what the group was expecting.

“They were all happy to be there,” he said. “They were happy to have food and see what they’re getting.”

On Saturday, the youth group ate lunch at The Banquet, a facility where free, hot meals are served to those in need in Sioux Falls. In 2012, The Banquet served 150,000 meals, with 21,000 of those meals served to children younger than 12, according to the facility’s website.

Skogstad said the experience allows the youth group to see the wide variety of people who rely on those types of services.  

“It can happen to anyone,” he said. “And that’s what they’re realizing.”

Later Saturday, the group volunteered at Hope Haven International, an organization that helps people living with disabilities in developing countries mainly by sending wheelchairs and other much-needed equipment.

“I can’t judge a person just by the first look,” Thill said as she worked to repair walkers for Hope Haven. “I don’t know their past. I don’t know what they went through.”