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Splash for cash: Polar Plunge set to benefit Special Olympics

Fredonia students are shown after participating in the Polar Plunge last year.

A large group of local high school students and teachers are about to feel very cold on behalf of a heartwarming cause.

This Friday, the Dunkirk Marauders Unified Club and the Fredonia Unified Team are among many groups across Western New York who will be participating in the 2022 Buffalo Polar Plunge at Woodlawn State Park Beach to benefit Special Olympics New York. Fredonia also participated in the Polar Plunge last year.

“It’s definitely a source of pride for our district,” said Fredonia Superintendent Brad Zilliox. “It’s an event that has brought people together. … We appreciate the energy and enthusiasm, and also the humor, ultimately for a good cause.”

Dunkirk High School senior Alyssa Salerno, Co-President of Dunkirk’s Unified Club and Team Captain of the Polar Plunge team, has seen first-hand the impact events like this can have on students. From experiences like watching “Aladdin” at Shea’s Performing Arts Center last week, a Friendsgiving celebration, and Unified sports contests between the athletes with special needs and their partners, the Polar Plunge is just another opportunity for Unified Club members to create memories to last a lifetime.

“I have seen my classmates – both the athletes and their partners – work toward a goal of being involved and including one another. We have formed such good bonds,” Salerno said. “We just want everyone to feel equally important. It is the best feeling to see the athletes so happy and to make memories with them.”

Submitted Photos Members of the Dunkirk Unified Team are shown at Shea’s Performing Arts Center last weekend.

To participate in the plunge into the frigid Lake Erie water, each team member is required to raise $125, with incentives as more money is raised.

“There are a lot of students here (at Fredonia) who have been very active raising money … and dozens of students are participating. It will be a great event,” said Kristen Ferro, Director of Special Education at Fredonia Central School District.

The Polar Plunge is the largest fundraising event for Special Olympics New York. As of Tuesday evening, over $275,000 has been raised this year to benefit Special Olympics New York.

“When we found out about the Polar Plunge, we just knew that the kids in our program would have a blast. We were ready to go to any extent to give them this experience and to do it with them,” Salerno said.

The Fredonia Unified Team adopted the name the “Chilly Billies” for the event. The team is led by Team Captain Gabriella Domenico, and was among the top teams in Western New York with over $6,400 raised as of Tuesday evening.

The Dunkirk Marauders were not far behind Fredonia’s efforts, with over $4,600 raised as of Tuesday evening in the district’s first time participating in the Polar Plunge. Both teams have already surpassed their respective fundraising targets.

“We are really appreciative of anyone who participates and/or donated, as well. It’s a great overall event for us to be involved with,” said Zilliox.

Salerno has helped lead Dunkirk’s outreach for donations. She called for sponsors of any specific member of the club, as well as donations to the club as a whole so that the funds can be distributed to members of the club so all can participate.

In addition to student leadership, faculty members Michelle Gilmour, Megan Larivey and Jill Domenico have all contributed to pushing Dunkirk’s Unified activities forward, including Dunkirk’s inclusion in the Polar Plunge this year. “DHS Unified wouldn’t be anywhere without them,” Salerno said.

As hard as it might be to enjoy the moment as they plunge into the freezing water, Salerno hopes that everyone participating in the event can find joy in the shared experience.

“We know that the things we do with these kids today will be stuck with them forever. We want to make sure they remember being included and having fun at the same time,” Salerno said.

Links to donate for each team are:

¯ Dunkirk Team Link — http://events.nyso.org/site/TR/Plunge/POLARPLUNGE?team–id=14106&pg=team&fr–id=2740

¯ Fredonia Team Link — http://events.nyso.org/site/TR/Plunge/POLARPLUNGE?team–id=13436&pg=team&fr–id=2740

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