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Daring individuals encouraged to participate in the Penguin Plunge

By Michelle Symington

MetroWest Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD With the second annual Freezin' for a Reason Penguin Plunge to benefit the Amelia Park Children's Museum (APCM) less than two weeks away, the organizers are still looking for daring members of the community to jump into the ice cold Congamond Lakes.

For those still contemplating the plunge, a participant in last year's event has some advice.

Jodi Maniscalco, who was named the Penguin Excelsior 2005 for raising the most money in last year's plunge, said, "It was very cold, but not as hard as I thought it would be. When I was in the water, I thought 'wow this is not as bad as I anticipated.'"

She added that there was a bonfire before and after the plunge to help the participants warm up. She said that the participants jump in and out of the water, staying in the lake for about a minute or two.

"The temperature was 34 degrees in the water and outside it was 19 degrees," she said. "We were in warm water compared to outside."

Maniscalco raised $2,057 last year with the help from 110 sponsors and has already raised over $2,000 for this year's event.

She said she asked everyone she knew to sponsor her and most people were willing to do so even if they could give $3 or more.

"I am happy with anyone who can give any amount," she said.

Maniscalco said she decided to take the plunge last year because "it is a really great cause and I feel we need more safe places for children."

The only other major children's museum in the area is in Holyoke, she added.

When asked if she had any advice for potential plungers, she said, "I would ask them to get involved. This is a wonderful cause that could really improve our community and help out lots of kids, not only in Westfield but in surrounding areas."

She also said that potential participants should "put their money where their mouth is and just jump in."

Last year, Maniscalco wore a bathing suit to jump in the lake. This year, she plans to wear a bikini.

"It is very easy to do it in a wetsuit," she said. "If I am going to do it and get this many sponsors, they deserve to see me actually jump into freezing cold water."

Although she has already raised over $2,000, Maniscalco said she hopes someone else receives the Penguin Excelsior title this year.

"I am hoping someone gets the title over me, but I want them to really have to compete for it," she said. "I am encouraging everyone to raise as much money as possible."

All of the proceeds raised from the participants will benefit the new 10,000 square-foot Amelia Park Museum that will be built near Amelia Park and the Greater Westfield Boys and Girls Club, creating a children's campus.

The current museum is 1,600 square feet.

Last year, 37 people took part in the plunge, which raised $14,000 for the museum. This year, organizers hope to attract at least 100 plungers.

"The Amelia Park Children's Museum is ecstatic that people are looking forward to our second Penguin Plunge and while this is a lot of fun, we want to remind people that it is designed to benefit kids. Parents and anyone else who believe in supporting children's development and education are encourage to attend," said Molly Watson, member of the APCM Board of Directors, communications chair and participant in the plunge, "All proceeds from the event will go to the museum and information and displays about the new museum structure will be featured on site."

In addition to the plunge, a variety of events will take place at the event for people of all ages. There will be activities for those who do not wish to plunge, but who want to take part in the event to raise money to support the new museum.

"This year's event will have more of a winter festival ambiance with a broader range of activities the whole family can enjoy," said Lynanne Nyarady, event chair. "Additionally, we're fortunate that more community organizations and businesses have stepped up and asked to be a part of the Penguin Plunge, making it a win-win situation for everyone involved."

New to this year's event is a Hole-In-One contest. Participants will hit a golf ball 150 yards for the chance to win a four- to six-person home spa. Golfers must bring their own club. Tickets are $10 each or three tries for $25.

There will also be outdoor sports demonstrations during which people can learn how to kayak in freezing cold water or to walk or run using snowshoes.

Also new this year is a live auction to win a four- to six-person entertainment package using the Kix 97.9 VIP bus to a country concert to be determined. Additional details will be available soon.

Food and concessions will be provided by the Westfield and Southwick Fire Departments.

Anyone who would like to help support the APCM, but cannot attend the event can now make donations online ( via PayPal with a credit card.

Organizers of the Penguin Plunge are encouraging participants to pre-register. The registration form is available on the website or can be picked up at the current museum, located at 99 Elm Street in Westfield.

A minimum pledge of $50 is required to register. Full-time students with a valid school I.D. will receive a registration discount.

This year's Penguin Plunge will take place Jan. 28. Registration begins at 11 a.m. The event takes place outdoors behind the Brass Rail Restaurant, 90 Point Grove Road in Southwick.

The full schedule of events is as follows:

11 - 12 p.m. plunger check-in

12 - 3 p.m. Penguin Plunge Festival, Hole-In-One contest to win spa, food concessions and family activities

12 p.m. Role-In-The-Hole Kayak Challenge

12:30 p.m. plunger costume presentation

12:45 p.m. plunger safety briefing

1 p.m. 2006 Penguin Plunge begins, 2006 Pledge Recognition Awards

2 p.m. 2006 team and costume awards.

Sponsors of this year's Plunge includes: KIX 97.9; Reminder Publications; Jelly Belly Pools and Spas; Decorated Products; the Westfield Evening News; Mobius Works and Bill Hughes Photography.