With a fundraising goal of $17,000, organizers for the Special Olympics Lawrence Polar Plunge ask community members to get cold for a cause this month and help more than 4,000 Kansas athletes.
Lawrence High School juniors Treven Gill and Jack Ritter have been working behind the scenes this school year as members of the Special Olympics Youth Activation Committee. The ambassadors meet regularly with student-peers across Kansas to help plan activities like the polar plunge and unified sports, which are Special Olympics events for students of all abilities.
Gill and Ritter also participate in the interpersonal and communication skills (IPS) class at LHS, attend field trips and extracurriculars with classmates, help spread the message of inclusivity and compete in unified sports.
“One of our missions has been to take what we learned in those meetings with the Special Olympics organization and then apply that knowledge and that learning in school with our friends and peers. This is one event where IPS can do a little bit of recruiting, spreading messages, spreading awareness,” Ritter said.
But promoting inclusivity and understanding isn’t enough. The LHS student body vice president also explained how “meaningful inclusivity” goes a step further.
“You can include someone by saying, ‘Hey, come along with us, we’re going to Sonic,’ and then you won’t talk to them for the rest of the car trip or for the rest of the meal. Meaningful inclusivity is inviting somebody to an activity, asking them what they thought about it and talking to them during that activity or event. And that’s the number one goal of classes like IPS or activities like the Special Olympics, to include everybody.”
Campaigns for change such as “Spread the Word” focus on stopping use of the hurtful “R-word.” Two years ago, LHS students and staff inspired the school to make change with their own schoolwide video and campaign. Ritter said work still needs to be done and that “meaningful inclusion and spreading the word about the ‘R- word’ is so important right now in American schools.”
The polar plunge, Ritter said, is for everyone, no matter their age or abilities. It will provide a fun atmosphere where people across the community can experience together an “environment of love and inclusivity.”
Participants can join individually or as a team and are encouraged to dress in costume following this year’s theme of polar opposites. (Think sun and moon, fire and ice, or pencil and eraser.)
Registration for the Special Olympics Lawrence Polar Plunge kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 26 at HERE Apartments, 1111 Indiana St. A costume contest is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. with the plunge to follow at noon.
The registration fee is $75 per person, and participants can seek donations to cover the cost. At-home plunging registration is also available. College students can receive a discounted registration fee of $25 but will not receive an event T-shirt or entry in raffles and prize drawings.
Money raised stays in Kansas and funds Special Olympics competitions and events, according to a news release.
“It’s such a great event, but it’s not just an event,” said Erin Fletcher, director of grants and development for Special Olympics Kansas. “It’s an event that changes lives and makes lives so much better for our athletes in our community.”
To register, make a donation, or learn more about the Lawrence event, visit this link.
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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.