Annual fundraiser makes a splash in E. Haven

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Dec. 9, 2007

EAST HAVEN — The slightly warmer temperatures Saturday morning may have been most welcome for the roughly 100 people in assorted swimming apparel standing on the shore of East Haven Town Beach.

With a call of “Plunge!” from the loudspeaker, most of the hardy souls raced into the water and immediately turned around to head for dry land. But one group — made up of soldiers from the 102nd Infantry of the Army National Guard — stayed in the water for nearly a minute while three men took the oath to reenlist.

“I thought you had to pass a psychological exam to reenlist,” joked one onlooker as participants in the annual Penguin Plunge, which benefits Special Olympics of Connecticut, ran into the frigid water.

Staff Sgt. Michael Kaman, Sgt. David Nastri and Pfc. Christopher Grimes all said the water was so cold it was difficult at first to say the words of the oath. The soldiers, in full camouflage gear and boots, were joined by several others from their battalion during the ceremony.

“We thought it would be motivating for the other soldiers,” Nastri, 46, said. “At first I couldn’t talk, it was so cold — I was trying to say ‘I’ and it wouldn’t come out.”

Kaman said he dedicated the morning’s efforts to his younger brother, David, who is currently serving in Iraq.

“It’s something I’ll always remember,” he said. “It was fun. I’m glad I did it.”

Janet Cianelli and her daughter, Kim Coppola, took part in the event for the fourth year in a row. Cianelli said that the pair chooses a different theme each year, and on Saturday they wore matching Statue of Liberty crowns.

“We didn’t know that the National Guard was taking the oath, (but) it was kind of patriotic,” Cianelli, 58, said.

Coppola, 34, said that she and her mother compete each year to raise money in honor of her 9-year-old nephew, who has Down syndrome. This year, Coppola raised $1,500 and Cianelli raised $1,700, they said.

East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also were on hand for the event.

“Going in isn’t that bad, it’s coming out that’s the tough part,” Capone Almon said. “Special Olympics, I mean, you can’t say enough about what they do for our community. … It’s a great cause.”

Debbie Horne, director of development for Special Olympic Connecticut’s Southwest Regional Office, said the Penguin Plunge raised about $11,000 online before the event, and more people walked in on Saturday to participate. The swimmers paid a $50 registration fee and raised money by asking people to sponsor them. All of the money goes toward athletes with intellectual disabilities in the southwest Connecticut region.

This is the sixth year the group has held the event, Horne said.

“It brings the community together — so many people have a hand in volunteering (and) plunging,” she said. “It’s just a feel-good, family-friendly event.”

“We thought it would be motivating for the other soldiers,” Nastri, 46, said. “At first I couldn’t talk, it was so cold — I was trying to say ‘I’ and it wouldn’t come out.”

Kaman said he dedicated the morning’s efforts to his younger brother, David, who is currently serving in Iraq.

“It’s something I’ll always remember,” he said. “It was fun. I’m glad I did it.”

Janet Cianelli and her daughter, Kim Coppola, took part in the event for the fourth year in a row. Cianelli said that the pair chooses a different theme each year, and on Saturday they wore matching Statue of Liberty crowns.

“We didn’t know that the National Guard was taking the oath, (but) it was kind of patriotic,” Cianelli, 58, said.

Coppola, 34, said that she and her mother compete each year to raise money in honor of her 9-year-old nephew, who has Down syndrome. This year, Coppola raised $1,500 and Cianelli raised $1,700, they said.

East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also were on hand for the event.

“Going in isn’t that bad, it’s coming out that’s the tough part,” Capone Almon said. “Special Olympics, I mean, you can’t say enough about what they do for our community. … It’s a great cause.”

Debbie Horne, director of development for Special Olympic Connecticut’s Southwest Regional Office, said the Penguin Plunge raised about $11,000 online before the event, and more people walked in on Saturday to participate. The swimmers paid a $50 registration fee and raised money by asking people to sponsor them. All of the money goes toward athletes with intellectual disabilities in the southwest Connecticut region.

This is the sixth year the group has held the event, Horne said.

“It brings the community together — so many people have a hand in volunteering (and) plunging,” she said. “It’s just a feel-good, family-friendly event.”

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