By Maya Brown and Andrew Zucker
It was a breezy winter day outside and the water was at a chilling 40°F, but Alex Smith had on a pair of navy blue shorts and little else.
As a crowd of some 50 people looked, bundled up in jackets and blankets, the Oyster Bay resident and a group of another 50 jumped into Oyster Bay for the 16th annual Polar Bear Plunge at Theodore Roosevelt Park on the morning of Sunday, March 8. The plunge was organized to collect donations for the Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County (CP Nassau). All of the proceeds will go towards the organization’s programs and services for more than 1,800 children and adults with disabilities.
“It doesn’t feel bad. It is pretty cold,” Smith said.“But there’s a nice equilibrium there.”
Once he was in the water, the air and water temperature almost matched one another and, for him, plunging is definitely worth it.
Over the years, the number of attendees has ranged from a low of 100 to a high of 300, Mary Brosky, Development Manager at CP Nassau said. The plunge has raised $10,579 from 190 donations this year.
“My favorite part is the enthusiasm,” Brosky said. “When you get down to the beach, there is just an electricity going on.” No matter rain or shine, the same supporters have come back for the past 15 years to support and raise funds for the organization.
“CP Nassau changes lives for the better, and has been making a difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities for over 70 years,” Joseph Saladino, Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor said. “This plunge is an important fundraising event each year for CP Nassau and it’s an honor for the Town and our residents to help benefit this amazing cause.”
CP Nassau’s Children’s Learning Center is the school component of the organization that provides evaluation, education and treatment services. Lucille Messina, a frequent CP Nassau volunteer, began volunteering 30 years ago when she wanted her daughter Jaqueline to join the center and has seen CP Nassau grow throughout the years. This was her first year supporting the plunge.
“The love, the dedication and the family make the event unique,” Messina said.
After joining the learning center, Messina was able to see Jaqueline get on the bus and they both had the opportunity to connect with other families.
“The organization is a godsend for people who have a disability,” Messina said. “I was a mother who couldn’t see my child get on a school bus with her little lunchbox backpack because she wasn’t able to do that before.”
Plunging is a common method of fundraising for various organizations throughout Long Island and has become a trend.
“There’s so many out there now,” Brosky said. “There’s a polar bear plunge like every weekend.”
In Michigan, more than 500 people took the plunge into Muskegon Lake on Jan. 25 and raised $130,000 and in Baltimore, over 8,000 people took the plunge into the icy waters of Chesapeake Bay on Jan. 26 and raised $3.6 million for the Maryland Special Olympics.
The Special Olympics of New York, an organization that helps fund year-round sports training and competition in Olympic Sports for children and adult athletes with intellectual disabilities, also held a polar bear plunge fundraiser at TOBAY Beach in the same town the day before for the 7th year in a row.
“Special Olympics New York changes lives through the joy of sports, and this plunge is one of their tentpole fundraising endeavors,” Saladino said.
Smith has done the Polar Bear Plunge in Long Beach for 12 consecutive years and the one in Oyster Bay for two.
“It’s a nice event and all of the people are here for a cause,” Smith said.