Penguins Jump into Lake Champlain for a Good Cause

Despite rumors of a warm day Saturday February 7th, a new breed of philanthropic penguins in shorts and tank tops still had to jump into Lake Champlain in 30 degree weather, while shivering Winter Festival attendees cheered their support.The Penguin Plunge, one of the main attractions of the annual Burlington Winter Festival, is managed through an organization called firstgiving.org. Hunter Houde is a UVM Salsa and Swing Society member who is both a penguin and a student in the UVM class that is responsible for the Winter Festival. According to Houde, the class at UVM is CDAE 195, a Community Development Applied Economics course on event planning. “It’s a class over winter break for about one week,” Houde said.”We break it up into teams: communications, infrastructure, sponsorship, and human relations,” Houde said. “Between those four teams you assemble all the components to put the event together.”Alexandra Raboy, the spokesperson of CDAE 195 who was in charge of media contacts and radio interviews, spoke about past events. “This Winter Festival is the 17th annual one, and about three years ago Burlington Parks and Rec. lost their funding. They came to UVM to ask for assistance, and this class has been in existence ever since,” Raboy said.Houde had a day full of work with his fellow classmates of CDAE 195, as well as a day of freezing cold fundraising at the edge of Lake Champlain.”Once you sign up [for the plunge] through firstgiving.org, you have to set up a fundraising page” Houde said. “I set a goal of 300 dollars, just enough to make people feel like they should donate more than five dollars.”According to vtso.com, the Penguin Plunge helps to raise money for the Vermont Special Olympics, allowing them to reach more potential athletes in the state.”You know it’s gonna suck, but it’s going to be awesome at the same time,” Houde said concerning his dive into Lake Champlain.Hilary Richard, a sophomore at Saint Michael’s College, was also waiting to jump with the rest of her group from MOVE, Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts, the Saint Michael’s community service organization. “We’ve been planning this since the beginning of January,” she said.”I did it last year with MOVE,” Richard said. “I was nervous last time, but I’m excited this time.”Bill Johnson, an observer who drove from Jeffersonville to give his support, said “It a good way to raise money, [but it is] earning cold cash.”David Gagne, a senior at Rice Memorial High School, said “our team’s raised 1500 dollars so far.””My son Zachary participates in the Special Olympics” Bob Uerz, father Zachary Uerz and resident of Jericho, said. “He (Zachary) participates in the golf, basketball, and bowling programs.””Zach’s here to cheer on his fellow classmates,” Uerz said. “He goes to Browns River Middle School, and they are one of the largest groups of participants here today.”Margie Sisco, a resident of Williston, Vermont and member of team “Taking Care of Business,” said “I feel like they should have the opportunity to get out there and do all these sports just like kids that don’t have handicaps.”Another member of Sisco’s team, Sue Furry Irish said, “I’ve always wanted to do this, and I am celebrating my 55th birthday that was last week.””It was really not as cold as you would think,” Irish said smiling.