“I knew I was just trouble when Caitlynn Van Nurden walked up to me one Sunday with the other youth nearby and said ‘hey pastor,’” said Rev David Penman, the pastor of St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Norfolk, VA.
She looked at me and said, ‘we want to raise $1000 for Special Olympics for the Polar Plunge. If we meet that goal will you commit to going in with us?’ I committed and I knew when those words came out of my mouth that St. Timothy would make sure that those kids raised all the money.”
Polar Plunge is a fundraising event for Special Olympics that may seem a bit crazy when you first hear about it…actually it doesn’t make much more sense after you dwell on it for a while but it works. The entire Polar Plunge in Virginia Beach raised over $1 million.
The idea is that people sign up as individuals or teams and they have to raise a minimum of $100 person to take the plunge into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean the day of the event. Splashing around in the ocean in February is no regular afternoon at the beach. A chilly 45 degrees combined with the coastal breeze provides quite a shock for the participants and a laugh for the onlookers.
The thought of that visual was what inspired the youth of St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church to ask their pastor to join them if they met their goal.
“$1000 was above what we needed to participate but we thought it was a reasonable goal,” said Caitlynn Van Nurden, a youth at St. Timothy. “Since it was going towards Special Olympics, we were really excited to raise the money.”
The Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities: with more than 4.5 million athletes in 170 countries.
Every Sunday the youth’s Polar Plunge goal was announced at church and during the week the youth were hard at work promoting their own online fundraising pages where their friends and family could donate.
The largest single source of money raised was from the St. Timothy Pie Auction. Everyone from church made or bought pies and then those pies were auctioned off. There was even a large pizza pie in the mix brought by Ben Alger, one of the youth leaders. Between the auction and through donations at church, St. Timothy’s contributed almost $700 to the goal.
After all the donations were counted up, the youth and their leaders had raised over $1600 for Special Olympics and they knew they would have the joy of seeing their pastor take the chilly plunge with them.
“When we were on the beach, as the time go closer to go into the water, Pastor kept making excuses like he heard his phone ringing and had to go get it,” Caitlynn said as she giggled while she remembered the scene.
While Pastor Penman enjoyed teasing the youth and sharing that moment, he said that what was really important was that the youth were getting the Gospel.
“One of the things that tickles me is that our youth are getting the message,” said Pastor Penman. The fact that they realize the meaning of the Gospel and are doing something for the benefit for the ‘other’ is truly amazing for me. Usually youth groups are involved with raising money for things the National Youth Gathering, but here they are with one of the biggest fundraisers of the year and they didn’t keep anything for themselves.”
The youth really are conscious of why they chose to participate in this fundraiser.
“One of the past few Sundays at church one of the things we focused on was getting out in the community,” Caitlynn said. “When we found out that the money went to Special Olympics, we got really excited because that was a way to reach out to people who aren’t directly connected to our church.”
Caitlynn and the other youth are already planning for the 2017 Polar Plunge.
“Pastor said to get him in next year we may need to get $2000. He’s raising the bar.”