Jan. 22—In this weekly feature, we put five questions before someone in the community. Today, we chat with Erin Fletcher, of Special Olympics Kansas.
1. Why is the annual Polar Plunge in February a significant event for Special Olympics Kansas?
Special Olympics Kansas is dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports competitions, health and nutrition programs and leadership development. SOKS is a nonprofit organization supported almost entirely by corporate and individual gifts and events.
The Polar Plunge is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Special Olympics Kansas. The funds raised through the Polar Plunge go toward year-round programs — everything from providing meals to offering medals — all of the things that you would need for a competition. It really helps support our athletes and to make the experience the best for them.
Special Olympics Kansas is a platform for acceptance and inclusion, as well as one of the largest advocates for healthy lifestyles in the state — regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or cultural differences.
2. Who are Special Olympics Kansas athletes, and how do they benefit from events like the Polar Plunge?
The athletes are able to go to competitions year-round, and this includes everything from bocce to basketball and anything in between. However, we're not just competitions. We also have lots of other programming. It helps provide different classes, sessions and activities for them to practice health and wellness and leadership throughout the year as well. We want to look at the overall aspects of how to improve our athletes' lives.
We have around 4,500 athletes statewide. In Southeast Kansas, we have approximately 2,000 athletes. In order to be an athlete with us, you just have to participate. We have a basketball competition scheduled Feb. 7-8 in Pittsburg. It will be a competition for our athletes and our unified school districts.
3. What are the details of the upcoming Polar Plunge?
The Polar Plunge in Pittsburg is set for Saturday, Feb. 11, at Crimson Villas, 1904 S. Rouse St. This year's theme is "Rock 'n' Plunge," where plungers are encouraged to wear their greatest rock 'n' roll costumes. We will have the costume contest at 11:30 a.m., and we'll start plunging into the water at noon. We'll have prizes for the individuals and groups with the best costumes, the team with the most participants and the top fundraisers.
In the past, we've had people dress up as minions or even grandmas.
We have a fundraising minimum of $75 to plunge into the water. A good friend of mine likes to say that you ask your seven closest friends for $10 and then throw in $5, and you have it. We just want you to try to get out there and spread the word of the Special Olympics, and not only help raise awareness but also some funds.
4. How successful was the Polar Plunge in 2022? How much do you hope to raise this year?
Last year, we set a goal of $30,000, and we did meet it. This year, we're trying to set the bar a little bit higher, and we're looking to raise $32,000. We're hoping we can meet that again this year. Typically, we meet our goals. It's about getting awareness out there and getting people to ask for small donations here and there. It adds up really quickly.
5. What's the best way to sign up for the Pittsburg Polar Plunge?
The easiest way is to visit our website at https://soks.org/polar-plunge/pittsburg.
Registration will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10, and at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11. When you register for the plunge online, you can create your own fundraising webpage to share with friends and family through email and on social media.
Erin Fletcher is the director of grants and development with Special Olympics Kansas.