Taking the plunge
More than 20 people plunged into the cold waters of Lake Junaluska at noon Saturday to show their support for the Haywood Waterways Association’s Kids in the Creek program.
Some “plungers” came decked out in goofy costumes, snorkeling gear, bathing suits or just full clothing to show their bravery. While some participants swam around in the lake for a few moments, most people jumped out as quickly as they jumped in.
The inaugural Polar Plunge fundraiser was the brainchild of Bill Eaker, the HWA board of directors fundraising chairman and environmental programs director for Land of Sky Regional Council.
Eaker got the idea from several other successful plunging events across the country and thought it would work well here to raise money for Kids in the Creek.
“Kids absolutely love the program,” Eaker said. “But it costs $9,000 each year.”
While the original goal was to raise $4,000 for the first-ever event, the fundraiser ended up bringing in a total of about $9,000.
“Haywood Waterways is completely humbled by the outpouring of community support," said HWA Executive Director Eric Romaniszyn in an email. “To be honest, we didn’t expect to have so much success in the first year. KIC costs approximately $9,000 so all donations will still be 100-percent dedicated to the event.”
Before the actual plunge at Lake Junaluska beach, Romaniszyn discussed the importance of the Kids in the Creek program. He said the association has reached 10,000 eighth-graders in Haywood County through the hands-on program since it began in 1997.
“We are the nonprofit working to protect our waterways for all the ways we use it… and one way we do that is through educational programs and Kids in the Creek is the biggest one,” he said. “Every year I’m amazed… when the kids come out to the stream it changes them. The wow factor is huge.”
The program teaches students about the importance of clean water and how to detect clean water based on biological samples collected, watersheds, water chemistry, fish, and macro-invertebrates. During the field phase the students collect biological data from the Pigeon River. The final phase is taught in the classroom where the students use the data they collected from the river to determine the water quality.
Romaniszyn said the HWA did a survey of the eighth-grade participants to get a sense of the program’s success. More than 80 percent of the students said it helped them better understand what they learned in the classroom, more than 70 percent said the experience inspired them to change their behavior toward bettering the environment through recycling, picking up litter and conserving water and 70 percent said they were now likely to take action to protect natural resources.
Eaker, who jumped into the lake dressed as the “Air Avenger,” a superhero who fights air pollution, hopes the event will grow each year.
For more information about Kids in the Creek, visit www.haywoodwaterways.org