In December, Penn State Mont Alto alumni and students worked together to make a splash. The water and air temperature was 38 degrees, but they didn’t let the cold stop them from jumping all the way into the lake at Cowans Gap State Park in McConnellsburg, Pa.
“Getting in freezing water on a Sunday isn’t most people’s idea of a good time, but they came out with a smile and proudly jumped in so that they could do their part to bring an end to pediatric cancer,” said AJ Stambaugh, Penn State Mont Alto alumnus and Polar Plunge chairman.
Mont Alto student Austin Towner is a senior in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS). He found doing the plunge rewarding because he knew he was going into the water for a good cause. “HDFS is a helping major – and that’s what the plunge and THON do,” he said.
The annual Mont Alto Polar Plunge is fairly unique. Penn State Mont Alto students and alumni coordinate the December event to help send student dancers to Penn State’s annual THON in February. THON is a student-run philanthropic dance marathon started in 1973. It is managed by the Four Diamonds Foundation and contributes toward efforts to combat pediatric cancer and support families affected by it. Last year, THON raised $10,621,683.76. All the profits from the Polar Plunge’s efforts go directly to the Mont Alto THON group.
Senior Kirsten Tircek, who is studying health policy administration at Mont Alto, said THON is hard to understand until you go to the event. Seeing the kids dealing with pediatric cancer and visiting with the families is impactful. “Giving all those kids the best opportunity to overcome health challenges and just be kids gives purpose to the fundraising,” said Kirsten, one of four Mont Alto student dancers at THON this year.
By the time they dive in, Polar Plunge participants have raised thousands of dollars to help fight pediatric cancer through support from local businesses, family members, friends, campus faculty and staff. Everyone who helps with the Mont Alto Polar Plunge rallies to support the event any way they can, and volunteers show up in droves to ensure that the work gets done. This year the Polar Plunge sent $13,500 to THON with the Mont Alto student THON group, which raised the third highest amount among all the Commonwealth campuses for THON 2020.
Participants in this year’s event drove from as far away as upstate New York. Most participants and volunteers expressed interest in seeing the event grow and returning for another event in December 2020.
Senior nursing student Keighley Taylor is hopeful that in the future, the event will be huge, and involvement and fundraising will grow.
Matt Berger, president of the Penn State Alumni Association Franklin County Chapter, agrees: “The Franklin County Chapter was very pleased in the increased participation in this year’s polar plunge. This event is a great opportunity for both alumni and students to come together for the common goal of supporting the fight against pediatric cancer. Our hope is that this annual event continues to grow and further support the THON Fundraising efforts for the Mont Alto campus. We have no doubt it will continue to bring our local alumni closer to the students continuing this great tradition.”
Sophomore nursing student Catalina Ruiz was impressed by the partnership with alumni. “You hear all the time about Penn State’s Alumni Association being one of the largest in the world. It’s great to see the impact that the Mont Alto alumni can have by getting involved in projects like the plunge. Students who partner with alumni can more effectively reach more people.”
Jake Schrom, president-elect of the Mont Alto Alumni Society Board of Directors, also admired the unified approach to the work being done. “I always feel a great deal of pride with the collaboration between alumni and students to organize and run the Polar Plunge event. We have built some momentum within the community and am very glad that the funds go to THON.”
Ninety participants raised funds in preparation for the Polar Plunge on December 8, 2019. That’s nearly twice the number who participated in the inaugural plunge in December 2018.
Jacob Zeigler, a sophomore in the mechanical engineering program and a Mont Alto THON dancer this year, said the 2019 plunge was even more exciting than the one in 2018. He will be studying at University Park next year, but he hopes to return for a third Polar Plunge in December 2020.
George Siehl, Penn State Mont Alto alumnus and longtime campus advocate, was pleased to see the increase in the number of student participants. “The second event filled the beach. People everywhere – not just spectators, but people who were plunging. Wave after wave. Literally.”
For the 2019 event, plunge coordinators built a website (montaltoplunge.org/20-news) to help new donors, volunteers and participants connect to resources. Updates on the work being done through the year can be accessed through the Polar Plunge Facebook page and Twitter account. The THON students and Polar Plunge alumni are already planning the 2020 Polar Plunge and will happily help anyone who wants to pitch in by participating, sponsoring, donating, or volunteering. Anything #ForTheKids!