SOUTHINGTON — Participants in the Sloper Plunge have a few more weeks to hope for warmer weather as the Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA has opted to move its annual dip into Sloper Pond to Feb. 27.
Normally held in January, the plunge sees dozens of participants leaping into the pond at Camp Sloper in often freezing temperatures to raise money for local children to go to summer camp.
“We noticed that January is kind of a tough month, so we wanted to give people more time to get their teams together,” said Justin Hubeny, the YMCA’s outdoor center director.
Local businesses and organizations — including Lake Compounce, the Southington Board of Education and Cheshire YMCA staff — form teams to jump into the water together, with each member asked to raise at least $100 towards the $50,000 goal.
The plunge typically attracts hundreds of spectators, however to abide by pandemic precautions the YMCA will instead be taking a video of the event and prohibiting in-person guests. Teams also usually go one after the other and cheer each other on, however they’ll be arriving one at a time and departing before the next arrives this year. Despite the changes, Hubeny expects this year’s plunge to have the same exciting, fun and energetic atmosphere.
“We’re still going to bring that same environment, there's just not going to be spectators this year,” he said. “ … It’s one of my personal favorite events of the year, it’s all for a good cause.”
YMCA CEO Mark Pooler said this year’s $50,000 fundraising goal is enough to cover 100 sessions of camp for children in need. Many of the kids whose summer camp experience was made possible by the fundraiser will be taking swimming lessons in the very pond that plungers will dive into next month, he noted.
Last summer the organization saw over on average around 500 kids attending summer camp each day, which Pooler expects to rise this year. Thanks to donors in Cheshire and Southington they’ve been able to meet the need so far.
“The people who participate believe that this is a really good cause. Camp is important for the development of kids and in the times we’re living in right now I don’t think there can be a more important need than summer camp … they need to get back to being kids and having fun, socializing with other kids,” Pooler said.
Gary Havican, Hartford HealthCare’s senior vice president, said when the pandemic reached Connecticut and began to cause a surge of hospitalizations, Pooler was one of the first community leaders to call him to offer childcare to allow their workers to focus on their efforts to stem the Coronavirus pandemic. That outreach and the continued help the YMCA has given healthcare providers with childcare inspired HHC to participate in the plunge for the first time this year.
“We’ve been a great partner with the Southington-Cheshire YMCA for years and we’ve seen the benefit of the Sloper Plunge over the years,” he said. “ … they've been great for us and we want to give back.”
Team Hartford HealthCare is expecting to see between 50 and 60 participants, said team leader Karen Fasano, HHC’s vice president of patient care services. Hartford Healthcare is this year’s featured team, a designation the YMCA gives to one team each year to highlight its social responsibility.
Both Havican and Fasano have seen the YMCA’s impact firsthand — Havican grew up going to camp at another Connecticut YMCA and Fasano’s children have attended Camp Sloper since they were 3 years old. She credits the work of the counselors there with shaping them into the teenagers they are today.
“I am devoted to the success of Camp Sloper … as a working mother, I never would have survived without the help of Camp Sloper,” she said.