Special Olympics Tahoe Polar Plunge raises over $100,000 | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Special Olympics Tahoe Polar Plunge raises over $100,000

Sebastian Foltz
Participants run into Lake Tahoe during a previous Polar Plunge.
Kelley L Cox-KLC fotos / Courtesy | KLC fotos

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — For 27-year Special Olympics volunteer Donna Hepp, jumping into frigid Lake Tahoe waters in March not once, but twice, is her idea of a good time — and she’s not alone.

“It’s a fun way to raise money,” she said. “It definitely gets people’s attention.”

Hepp and 329 other participants spent a chilly Saturday morning, March 19, on the beach at Zephyr Cove Resort for the Special Olympics South Lake Tahoe Polar Plunge fundraiser.

“The turnout was phenomenal,” Special Olympics Northern California and Nevada COO Ilisa Kessler said. “It’s a party atmosphere. People keep coming back.”

The annual event raised more than $111,000 this year, with donations still being accepted.

“It’s a great display of community coming together,” Kessler noted. “We’ve been growing the fundraising every year.”

A few years ago donations topped out at around $70,000, she said, which shows how much the event has grown since then.

“It’s a unique way to meet people. You make friends from year to year,” Hepp said of her inspiration to participate.

“It’s incredibly near and dear to my heart,” she added, explaining that she’s participated in numerous plunges this winter. “It’s kind of synonymous with the Special Olympics.”

When asked about Tahoe, she said it was the coldest.

“It was definitely colder than Portland.”

Kessler described the annual fundraiser as Nevada’s largest for the cause. Funds benefit Special Olympics programs in California and Nevada with $0.92 of every dollar going directly to programs and activities.

“It is essential to help with our programs,” she explained. “It gives opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities that they wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise.”

Beyond the plunge, festivities included the group’s annual costume contest. This yea was rock-and-roll themed.

Todd Finato took top honors for individual funds raised, collecting $2,875. The Greater Nevada Credit Union participants combined for $15,960 in contributions as event sponsors and leading corporate team.

The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office raised $5,690 as lead law enforcement agency.

“It’s been pretty incredible,” Kessler said of the efforts, crediting the Tahoe destination for attracting participants from across California and Nevada. “It’s got a great reputation as one of the most fun plunges.”

To learn more about Special Olympics in Northern California and Nevada respectively, visit http://www.sonc.org and http://www.SONV.org.

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