Punxsutawney Phil was right – it snowed twice this week, but that didn’t stop intrepid souls from taking to the Atlantic Saturday afternoon during the “Second Annual Polar Bear Plunge” held at Sea Bright Public Municipal Beach.
Twenty-five plungers – for lack of a better word – braved 44-degree water temperatures in an effort to raise funds for Ronald McDonald House of Long Branch (RMH/LB).
“It was really cold – but it was worth it for a good cause. I’ll do it again for the RMH,” said Alec Burke, of Sea Bright.
The plunge was hosted by the Junior Board of Ronald McDonald House, comprised of 13 juniors from Rumson-Fair Haven (RFH) Regional High School, Rumson, and one student from Manalapan Englishtown Middle School. Co-chairs of the event were Emily Hays and Ben Sherman, Fair Haven, both 17, and juniors at RFH.
“The Junior Board is a good thing to be involved in – you get what you give,” said Sherman.
According to Sherman, the board consists of students from Rumson Fair Haven Regional High School, and members serve pretty much until they graduate. Both he and Hays have been on the board since their sophomore year, and will be on it until graduation.
“We are happy to play our part in helping the Ronald McDonald House, an awesome nonprofit that is close tour homes and hearts,” said Hays.
Hays and Sherman haven’t come across any classmates that have given them grief for being involved with the junior board. On the contrary.
“My friends think it’s cool that I am involved with the junior board. They know that it is important to me and admire me for being involved in something that helps other people so much,” said Hays.
“There’s a lot of support for charity work from my friends – they’re positive about it, and I appreciate that from them,” added Sherman.
A positive attitude – and anticipation – filled the 35-degree air as the plungers dashed into the water, then beat a hasty retreat back to dry land. This is the Atlantic in February, remember?
“The water was so cold! It was colder after, too – the sand was colder,” said Hunter Rotchford, Rumson. “I’d do it again – it’s a great cause.”
The plunge was the brainchild of one current, and two former board members.
“Our older members – Elise Keale, Sarah Delaney and Artie Tildesley – thought up the idea for the plunge last year, and we thought of it again, because it was a success,” said Sherman.
Board members from RFH are Tildesley, Kevin Alter, Glen Wise, Brigid Shutsky, Schuyler DeBree, Nicky Armstrong, Mike Moralle, Tori Huttner, Amy Littleson, Alec Burke and Dayna Morelli; and Jamie Gunther from Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School.
All board members participated in the event – in the “drink” or on dry land – which began with Hays and Sherman getting approval from former Sea Bright Mayor Maria D. Fernandes, as well as the Sea Bright Chief of Police John Sorrentino, Ocean. The group then created fliers and distributed them pre-plunge, and sold commemorative T-shirts and wrist bands post-plunge.
“I’m very impressed that they go out there and volunteer their time for a great cause. These are high school kids, and for them to have that knowledge and ability to do this – I’m very impressed with it,” said Chief Sorrentino. “Hopefully, it will be a long partnership with us and Ronald McDonald House. The kids should be appreciated for what they do – they deserve all the praise they get.”
Why support Ronald McDonald House?
“I heard about it in my town, and believe in what the organization does. It was simple for me to get involved because I like charity work – it’s an amazing thing they do,” said Sherman. “This amazing organization provides a ‘home away from home’ for families of seriously ill children who receive medical care at nearby facilities.”
Hays decided to be a part of RMH as she was inspired by the people she knows who were already part of it.
“I wanted to become a part of something that meant a lot to me and RMH is exactly what I was looking for,” she said.
“We’re using the event as an opportunity to raise awareness,” said Sherman.
This is a “virgin plunge” for the student.
“It was great, it was awesome!,” he said. “I couldn’t attend the event in 2011, so unfortunately, I didn’t have any experience in it.”
Hays however, did brave the rain, and frigid waters in 2011.
“I did plunge last year! I think this year I will plunge again,” she said. “I think that the turnout of kids from my school was great, especially considering the weather conditions!”
Unable to plunge this year, she assisted with registration, yet Josh Reed, Fair Haven, braved the waters on the blustery, overcast day.
“The water was cold – it was interesting,” he said. “I’ve done this plunge – when I vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard, I was in the Polar Bear Club – but, the water was warmer. I’ll do this again next year.”
Not only did plungers get soaked to raise funds for the nonprofit, but paid to do it – yet the $30 entry fee was minimal for a good cause. Additional pledges weren’t mandatory, but much appreciated, and all proceeds benefited Ronald McDonald House.
“The $30 is a good amount – we charged it last year and we were successful, so we feel that’s a good amount. Obviously, as high school students, we want a good amount of the participants to be our classmates,” said Sherman. “We’re very optimistic the community will help our very worthy cause – in our past events, we’ve been very happy with the dollars we’ve raised and the support we got.”
Hays was extremely impressed by the turn-out of people willing to help RMH, especially during a recession.
“People are very generous and they know it is for a good cause. It means a lot to us that people in our community are willing to do what they can to help,” she said.
Generosity is key to Ronald McDonald House Long Branch, located at 131 Bath Ave., one block from Monmouth Medical Center. The facility accommodates parents and families of seriously ill children, and while it costs $60 per-night to house one family, RMH requests only $10. Many can’t afford even that amount, but, if a family can’t manage that amount, RMH does not turn away the family due to its financial situation. Approximately 100 families stay at the eight-bedroom house annually, and come from the United States, and countries as far away as Europe and the UAE, and Australia.
“We have wonderful McDonald owner/operators throughout central New Jersey who are very supportive of us,” said Nanette Leonard, manager events and public relations at Ronald McDonald House, Long Branch.
Leonard – who also plunged, up to her calves – had nothing but praise for the junior board and its efforts.
“The RMH Junior Board is a wonderful group of high school students who create fundraising events to benefit RMH/LB. They are an amazing group, and RMH truly appreciates all of their hard work,” she said.
She noted that last year, the junior board raised more than $6,000 for RMH/LB through events such as the Polar Bear Plunge, and RMH Day in Fair Haven. The board also assists at RMH events that included the “Walk With Ronald,” and the “Ride for RMH.”
Assisting the board was Sea Bright Pizza, which supported the endeavor in 2011.
“We’d like to thank Cono Trezza, owner of Sea Bright Pizza, for his support of this second annual event,” said Sherman.
“Cono Trezza volunteered his time, his money, his energy,” added Chief Sorrentino.
Trezza, Lincroft, not only allowed plungers to register at the pizzeria, but provided them with free pizza and drinks as they defrosted, post-plunge.
“I’ve been in this town seven or eight years – I know Ben’s and Emily’s families, and all the people involved,” he said. “Anything for charity, I’m always available. It’s something that I feel you can always get back – I’m capable of doing it, and I want to do it.”
When asked if he would host other plunge “parties,” he didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely – it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Following the exhilarating experience, plungers were in good spirits as the group thawed out and enjoyed pizza and beverages for 30 minutes.
While he anticipated making between 20-30 pies for the plungers, Trezza noted he’d make 50, 1,000 – he doesn’t care – and he admires the junior board for its efforts.
“It’s amazing. I give them a lot of credit,” he said. “They’re an intelligent group of kids. The generation today should be more involved like this – there are some people who still care.”
As she walked to her car – having regained the feeling in her toes – Leonard paused.
“I’m so proud of the job our junior board continues to do to support the House,” she said. “Everybody that came had a great time. Ben and Emily did a terrific job in spearheading the event, and they’re just amazing young people.”
The Junior Board of the Ronald McDonald House of Long Branch wishes to thank Nan Leonard and the House, the Sea Bright Police and EMTs, Sea Bright Pizza, and the community for supporting its effort, as well as Congressman Frank Pallone who made an appearance at the Feb. 11 event.
Post-plunge donations to Ronald McDonald House may still be made by visiting www.rmh-cnj.org.