Penguin plungers prep for Saturday
By Jess Wisloski
The freezing waters of Lake Champlain and predictable chill of February air in Vermont is no match for the heat Williston Central School is ready to bring.
Guts go further than blood vessels for these kids — which double in number the size of last year’s team, with 40 student “swimmers.”
The Penguin Plunge has become a waterfront tradition, and a valuable annual fundraiser for the Special Olympics, helping provide support for programs that help children and adults with intellectual disabilities be physically active, train and compete year-round while building strong community ties.
This year, Williston’s team, made up of the brave students and 11 school employees, has raised more money than ever. While starting out with a goal of $6,000, they then upped the ante as the goal drew close, team captain Jodi Bartley, a math specialist at Allen Brook School, said.
“We raised it to $7,000, and we’ve just really been fundraising pretty steadily over the past few weeks with increased participation and increased donations,” she said. As of the writing of this story, the students had raised more than $9,000.
That topples what the very first Penguin Plunge raised, $8,000, in the year 1996, when a few people took the first dip during Burlington’s Winter Carnival.
Now the event is Special Olympics Vermont’s largest annual fundraising effort, and has dips in both North Bennington and Burlington.
Last year, the organization raised $474,000 with the help of 1,200 plungers. With the team from Williston, they may break half a million this year.
Bartley said for the kids, it’s exciting to be connected with a way to raise money for programs many of them already enjoy or participate in. Unified Sports is a program of the Special Olympics that brings team sports made up of both special needs and non-special needs students, into the school community. Willston schools currently have a bowling team in the fall and a bocce ball team in the spring within the Unified Sports program, Bartley said. “So many students are aware because of that large presence in our school,” she said.
“We’re looking at getting new uniforms. The students are motivated at that – that some of the money from their fundraising efforts is coming back to us.”
In addition, they held a kickoff assembly, showing students video clips of what to expect if they wanted to join in.
As Saturday’s big event draws closer, Bartley said the buzz inside the school hallways was growing. “The excitement is definitely increasing — we have a staff member from our lunchroom [Sam Beatson] — he’s increased the involvement and participation by volunteering to dye his hair pink [if they hit a fundraising goal of $7,000]. He’s very popular with the students at school, and him setting that goal helps students get motivated,” she said.
The kids did meet the goal, so the lunchroom at WCS will soon be a little more colorful.