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Penguin Plunge returns next month

The Penguin Plunge, a major fund-raiser for the Amelia Park Children's Museum will take place Jan. 28 at the Congamond Lakes. Participants who would like to plunge into the icy water are asked to pre-register for the event. The first 30 plungers who register by Jan. 18 will receive a prize. For registration forms, visit the museum at 99 Elm Street in Westfield or the website at Pictured above are the participants of last year's event, which raised $14,000.
By Michelle Symington

Staff Writer

WESTFIELD While many ice skaters will be seen skating on the frozen lakes and ponds in the area this January, others will voluntarily be taking a dip into the freezing cold water of Lake Congamond.

The Amelia Park Children's Museum (APCM), formerly known as the Discover Westfield Children's Museum will host the second annual Penguin Plunge to raise money to support the new 10,000 square foot museum that will be built next to Amelia Park and the Westfield Boys and Girls Club.

According to Molly Watson, member of the APCM Board of Directors and communications chair, the Board hopes that the Plunge will become one of the signature fund-raising events for the museum.

Last year, 37 daring people plunged into the freezing water and raised a total of $14,000 to support the museum's Lend a Hand, Be a Star Capital Campaign.

This year, Watson said she hopes to attract 100 plungers and raise $40,000.

She said last year's plunge went well and gave the Board a benchmark for moving forward.

"The most important thing is that we want more people," Watson said. "It is such a fun event. We want people to spread the word."

Watson, who participated in the plunge last year, said that the Southwick Fire Department had to break through about 12 inches of ice on the lake to create a space for the participants to enter the water.

As someone who plunged, Watson said, "There is so much adrenaline because you are excited and fearful at the same time."

She described her experience in the ice cold water as being "kind of like childbirth.

"As soon as you are finished, you want to do it again," she said.

Of the 37 plungers last year, Jodi Mansicalo raised the most money for the museum, bringing in over $2,000.

Watson explained that Mansicalo was named the 2005 Penguin Excelsior and will be the first person with the honor of jumping in the lake this year wearing a black bowtie as the penguin.

"We want to develop an emotional tie to this event from year to year," Watson said.

In addition to the plunge, a variety of other activities will be offered for those who are not willing to plunge, but who still want to participate in the event.

This year, the event will take place entirely outdoors. The Southwick and Westfield Fire Departments will provide the food.

The event will also include snowshoe and kayak demonstrations, kids crafts and a hole in one contest with a chance to win a home spa.

Watson said that many of the plungers dressed in costumes last year one dressed as a cow, while another dressed as the Cat in th Hat. This year, Watson said there will be a costume contest for those who participate in the plunge.

She added, "People are so excited about participating in the event this year."

Although participants can register the day of the event, Watson encourages participants to preregister. The first 30 plungers who register by Jan. 18 will receive a prize.

Each participant will receive a gift bag the day of the event based on the amount of money they raise.

The Penguin Plunge will take place Jan. 28. Registration begins at 11 a.m. and participants will plunge into the icy water at 1 p.m.

Participants must be 18 years old to plunge or 14 and older with parent consent.

Watson said that people can participate as an individual or may plunge as part of a group.

The registration cost is $50. College students will receive a $25 discount with a valid college ID.

The event will take place at the Congamond Lakes behind the Brass Rail Restaurant in Southwick.

Registration and pledge forms are available at the museum, currently located at 99 Elm Street in Westfield. Forms are also available on the museum's website:

Watson said that people from all over are encouraged to participate in the Penguin Plunge to support the APCM because it is a regional children's museum.

The current museum has outgrown its space on Elm Street and is looking to expand.

The Museum Board was issued a $1 million match grant from local philanthropist Al Ferst of which the Board was asked to raise $500,000 by last February and an additional $500,000 to match Ferst's donation.

The new building will be located near Amelia Park and the Westfield Boys and Girls Club, creating a children's campus in that area.

The current museum caters to children ages 1 to 7. The goal of the new 10,000 square foot museum is to extend the programs and exhibits to attract children ages 1 to 12 years old.

According to Watson, the museum must still raise about $750,000 to help complete the construction of the new building and to complete most of the exhibits inside.

She explained that the theme of the new museum will be "Exploring New Places," and will include exhibits such as the proposed space shuttle climbing structure, a wellness center where children can learn about hospitals, dentist offices and veterinary clinics, a tree canopy, a soft sculpture area for toddlers, live animals, and a Main Street with ATM machines, stores and a post office.

In addition, the new museum will include space for special events and programs for children.

Watson said that a children's museum is a place where children can engage in free play.

The mission statement of the museum is: "APCM provides an enriching environment where children and their families can learn about themselves, their communities, and the world around them. Integrated throughout the museum is a broad range of activities, which foster a climate of learning and exploration. Central to the museum's philosophy is that children can learn through the arts, history, science and the region's rich environmental and cultural diversity."

Once construction of the museum begins, it will take about one year to complete.

Currently, the museum remains open at the Elm Street location. Museum hours are Mon., Thurs. and Fri. 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.; Sun. 1 - 4 p.m.

Admission is $3 for adults and children one year and older and $2.50 for senior citizens 60 and older. There is no charge for children under the age of 1.

The museum also offers memberships. A family membership is $40; grandparent membership is $30; and a daycare membership (caregiver and up to six children) is $40.

For more information about the museum or the Penguin Plunge, call the museum at 572-4014 or visit