WESTFIELD — Supporters of Amelia Park Children’s Museum will wade, waddle, dive and run into the icy waters of Hampton Ponds State Park on Jan. 27 for the 20th time to raise funds for the museum.

According to Museum Executive Director Diane Chambers, the annual Penguin Plunge “helps offset our normal operating expenses as our reasonable/affordable admission prices and memberships only cover a little over half of our operating expenses.”

This year, Chambers hopes to raise $30,000, including funds from sponsors and the plungers themselves.

Longtime plunger Rick Barry, a member of the museum board, will brave the cold air and water for the 19th time this year. The top fundraiser for the past several years, Barry will break out his traditional Hawaiian shirt again for the Plunge. He said the tropical attire helps him mentally prepare for the shock of the cold.

“I have always said that is mind over matter,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, it is cold, but you have to have fun with and not think about it. It’s just another dip in the water, but in January.”

Barry started participating six years before joining the museum board in 2023.

“My first year was 2006 and I was working for the The Westfield News, they were a major sponsor of the event and wanted someone to represent them. I said I would do it as long as I could raise, I think it was like $500. I was thinking it’s less than a week away from the event and no way I could do it. That was my out,” Barry recalled. “Little did I know that [Publisher] Carol Mazza already had a check for most of that, and the rest of the staff pooled together the rest of it. So, I was pretty much set up to do it.”

Barry said he keeps plunging because the museum is a great cause.

“I keep doing it year after year mainly to support the children’s museum, which is great asset not only to Westfield but the entire area,” he said. “The museum allows children to have a safe place to have fun while learning and playing. Also, it’s fun and not everyone can say that they jump into a frozen pond in January.”

Chambers also said the museum is a community asset.

“It is a welcoming space where children and their families can learn and explore through play. Our museum is chock full of exhibits some featuring role play others encourage experimenting, STEM and music,” she said. “Children of all ages can build, pretend they are a doctor or nurse, save, spend or share at the bank exhibit, find dinosaur bones, and have fun while moving and exercising or simply join us for one of our special activities. APCM offers many benefits to the community beyond allowing children to learn through play and exploration.”

Chambers added that the children’s museum brings families and the community together: “Visitors make new friends, renew old friendships or have playdates with others.”

“Chuck Kelly, a plunge committee member and former board member, will be plunging this year once again,” Chambers said. “Together, Chuck’s and Rick’s fundraising goals total $10,000. Though not going in the water, the remainder of the board will be working at the plunge. Most staff will be at the museum, as we are open that day to welcome visitors.”

Chambers said the funds raised at the event help keep museum doors open.

“Without the plunge, we would have a shortfall. It truly helps us to make ends meet,” she said.

While there is always a good showing, Barry said he hopes more supporters will take the plunge this year, and offered some advice to novice plungers.

“Make sure that you wear something on your feet — old sneakers, water shoes or something like that,” he suggested. But otherwise, he said, “the less you have on when you go in the water, the better. Get acclimated to the air temperature about 10 to 15 minutes before you take the plunge. It sounds crazy, but it will make the water not feel cold, well, not as cold. Then get out of your wet clothes as fast as you can. And most of all, have fun.”

Over the years, Barry has seen a lot at the Penguin Plunge.

“There was this one plunger who was dressed up in one of those inflatable dinosaur costumes and he was riding a bike around the beach, then he went in the water in the costume. I just remember watching him ‘swimming’ to get to the bell to ring it, and how the whole crowd was laughing and cheering him on,” he recalled.

Chambers said wearing a costume or having a theme is one of the best parts of the event.

“A costume contest is part of the fun,” she said. “Although it is not mandatory, most participants plunge in costume. There are prizes for best individual costume and best team costume.”

The following prizes will be awarded: a Penguin Plunge 2024 T-shirt to adults who raise at least $75, as well as shirts for young children aged 2-6 who raise at least $25, and youths aged 7-18 who raise at least $50; additionally, a Penguin Plunge 2024 hat for those who raise at least $150; additionally, Amelia Park Children’s Museum drinkware for those who raise at least $300; and additionally, a Penguin Plunge 2024 jacket for those who raise $500 or more.

The top three individuals or teams that raise the most money will receive cash prizes of $300, $200 and $100.

Barry said for him — as well as the majority of plungers — the prizes are not the motivation. Helping the museum is the goal.

“A few years ago, I came up with a tag line ‘If we all do a little, we all can make a difference.’ But I usually will ask someone to come take the plunge with me, their reaction is ‘No way!’ so, then I can ask them for a donation to help support the museum,” said Barry. “Most people are up for that [rather] than jumping in the ‘chilly’ water. There are some who do say that yes, they will do it. Some will plunge solo and others will get a group together and do it.”

Chambers said there’s more than just a cold swim in store that day.

“The plunge is a lot of fun,” she said. “Everyone that comes out to plunge or to cheer on a plunger has a great time. We have lively and danceable music from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., cornhole, ice sculpture artist, refreshments, make your own s’mores. We’ve added a petite plunge for the children so they can feel part of the event. Those that participate in the Petite Plunge will receive a T-shirt and a Penguin plushie.”

To learn more, register or donate, visit ameliaparkmuseum.org.

Hope E. Tremblay
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