By SHERIDAN CYR
Saturday’s temperatures climbed to 48 degrees, but the water at YMCA Camp Sloper hovered just one degree above freezing as 175 people “took the plunge” to raise money for the YMCA’s 13th annual Sloper Plunge.
Officials expect the final tally to come later this week, but they said that the fundraiser easily surpassed this year’s $45,000 goal.
“This event is a great example of what Southington does,” said YMCA executive director John Myers. “The whole community comes out to show support for kids. It’s a real testament to what we do here in Southington.”
The event raises money for scholarships to send local youth to summer camp. Community groups such as the police and fire departments, the board of education, individual schools, local organizations, town leaders and many more come together in teams. Each individual is responsible to raise $100 each in order to qualify to take the plunge.
Before the first round of jumpers leapt off the dock, operations director Mark Pooler shared a story about one child’s Camp Sloper impact. The boy was granted a scholarship to attend Camp Sloper with funds raised from the Sloper Plunge. His summer at the camp was so influential, he decided to save up all of his birthday and Christmas money to donate to the Y so somebody else could have the same experience he did.
“We want to thank you all for your support,” said Pooler. “This will allow more than one hundred kids to attend summer camp here with us.”
YMCA outdoor center director Justin Hubeny guided jumpers to their places and offered words of encouragement as they lined up before the dock.
“Every kid deserves to go to camp,” said Hubeny. “Camp Sloper is an experience that offers new friendships, new skills, connects kids to positive and energetic role models, and just gives them a place to be a kid.”
Two jumpers from Team YMCA, Caroline Roy and Jackie Nadeau, stood together by the lake and waited eagerly for the fun to begin. Roy returned for her 4th plunge, and Nadeau returned for her 13th.
“Camp is awesome because it gets kids active and gets them away from the screens,” said Roy. Nadeau added that friendship is a guarantee. Some of her good friends today are ones she met in camp, she said.
Since Nadeau has been jumping since the first year, she has had the opportunity to see the event grow.
“It started out as just about eight people jumping in. Now we are expecting more than 150 people,” she said. The event reached and surpassed that goal.
As far as taking the plunge, “It’s not actually that bad. The anticipation is the hardest part,” said Nadeau.
This year’s feature team was the Southington Rotary Club. Their team of 12 dressed up as jellyfish and sharks with elaborate, colorful handmade costumes.
Spectators piled up along the outskirts of the lake, cheering, waving signs, and encouraging jumpers for the daunting task. The plunge brought out hundreds of community members for a common goal.
Dredging the pond
Whether it’s the Sloper Plunge, fishing derbies, or summer swimmers, the pond at YMCA Camp Sloper is one of the signature landmarks in the park. In recent years, YMCA officials have been looking for funding to dredge the debris that has naturally settled in the pond.
The lake itself is a man made lake, meaning it doesn’t have a strong water flow. Over time, manmade lakes collect natural debris along the bottom. Eventually, they need to be dredged.
Myers said the project comes with a $3.8 million price tag. For this, the YMCA sought out state funding to remove the approximately 8 feet to 12 feet of debris that has settled on the floor of the lake. If the lake is not dredged, eventually it will simply become a wetland.
“Of course, we want to save the pond. It’s an important vessel to our camp here,” said Myers. “The state knows we are seeking funding.”
The state is looking at more than a $220 million deficit, so the project is not a top priority at the state level at this time. For now, the YMCA is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“This area is very important to us, but it’s a big project,” said Hubeny. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.