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Penguin Plunge 2008

Icy waters no match for Amelia Park Children's Museum

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

SOUTHWICK Plungers described their experience as what seemed like an Arctic chill or extreme ice cream headache hammering their bodies as they dove into the frigid Congamond Lake on Saturday for the fourth annual Amelia Park Children's Museum Penguin Plunge.

The approximately 90 plungers ages 10 to 72 dressed in eclectic costumes and colorful bathing suits and took it upon themselves to brave the 33-degree water to participate in the museum's largest annual fundraiser.

Each plunger came with their own unique story and purpose for plunging but all with the overall goal of helping to raise the remaining $250,000 that will allow the museum to reopen at its new location on South Broad Street formally located on Elm Street in Westfield.

Many parents, such as Shawn Devillier (dressed as "PlungeBob" a.k.a. SpongeBob) and Patricia Poteat (dressed as a mermaid), said they came in costume not only to amuse their children but also to help provide them with another avenue for interactive learning. Poteat added that she is confident that once the museum reopens her five-year-old daughter will be begging to go at least once per week.

Ten-year-old Natalie Mitchell said she plunged with her father Joe Mitchell for two reasons: to help the museum open its doors and to break her brother Brian's 2007 record as the youngest plunger. She added that she is looking forward to visiting the museum with Brian as soon as it opens.

State Rep. Donald Humason Jr. said that he, like many others, was plunging for the fourth year in a row not for the experience but because of the cause. "You think I would have learned by now," he joked, adding that the end result of the museum's reopening will be worth the plunge.

Each participant raised a minimum of $50 and according to Molly Watson, vice president of the museum's Board of Directors, this event raises approximately $30,000 each year.

Cathleen Bastible, co-chair of the Penguin Plunge, explained that the event is a labor of love for all involved, adding that well over 100 man-hours are required to make the plunge a reality.

She noted that the event costs approximately $8,000 to put on including the employing of eight Southwick town employees. Bastible said that many members of the community, such as the Southwick Volunteer Fire Department and Department of Public Works personnel, generously donated their time to ensure a safe environment for the plunge and also to cut the ice a project that began at 8 a.m. so the plunge could begin at 1 p.m.

Watson noted that despite the large amount of funds raised by the Penguin Plunge, approximately $250,000 is still yet to be raised in order to fully fund the exhibits before the museum can open.

The exhibits, such as the Wellness Center, Nature Center Exhibit, Live Animal Area and Toddler Garden Exhibit, will allow museum goers with opportunities to learn about daily life through hands-on participatory education. According to information released by the museum, the Live Animal Area will provide children with exposure to various species within their 150-gallon saltwater touch tank. The Wellness Center will allow museum goers to practice professions such as doctors by using blood pressure cuffs and X-rays.

Watson said she and others work diligently throughout the year to produce various fundraisers in the hopes of finally opening the museum.

"We want to have the best opportunities for our kids," Watson said, adding that the museum will expose local children to educational and cultural opportunities most often found elsewhere.

Watson said the goal is to open the museum sometime this year.

For more information about the Amelia Park Children's Museum or to make a donation go to their Web site at