Polar Plunge gets personal for Community First employees

sledding down hill.For over 20 years, Community First Credit Union has supported Special Olympics and the Polar Plunge event. For many members and employees, the organization is close to their heart.

polar plunge

We support a lot of great causes throughout our service region, but this event has definitely become a passion for members and employees who see the real impact of our support,” said Cathy Mutschler, VP of Community Relations.  “This cause touches them personally, and brings us closer together as a team and community,” she added.
The Polar Plunge is the largest fundraising event for Special Olympics, helping to fund dozens of sporting competitions for 9,305 athletes in the state. 
Member-owner and CFCU-employee Nicole Lannyk of Waupaca is grateful for the support. Her son, James, had a stroke at birth, was diagnosed with autism at age 3, and started having seizures at 15. Due to his severe anxiety and OCD, he has a hard time leaving the house some days.
When Special Olympics events are happening, he comes to life. “He absolutely loves track and his fellow athletes,” Nicole says. “James will ask for track all year long.”
James and other individuals with special needs are able to take part in sporting events that break down barriers to build communities of inclusion through Special Olympics. Athletes train and compete in a variety of sports, like skiing, basketball, bowling, football, soccer and track. They also receive free health screenings, unified experiences and opportunities to stay connected, active and engaged. 
The athletes are from age 3 into adulthood for those who have intellectual disabilities and we have free clinics for health checkups, foot care and dental care as well as helping them to participate in tournaments and sending them to national and international games for Special Olympics,” said Sarah Graper, Director of Development/Special Events for Wisconsin Special Olympics.
While the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, it has hit these athletes especially hard. The organization helped reduce social isolation by offering a variety of safe alternatives to keep athletes connected, while preparing for the time when competitions can resume.   
In the past, dozens of CFCU employees have taken part in the Polar Plunge event by plunging into frigid waters in Oshkosh and Green Bay. Credit Union member-owners have also helped employees raise thousands of dollars along the way.
Due to COVID-19, organizers took a different approach in 2021. Instead of ‘Freezin’ for a Reason’ in frigid water, they created a different plunge experience - down a hill on inner tubes -  at Ariens Hill/Titletown in Green Bay on Feb. 20 and at Nordic Mountain on Feb. 28. You could also chill at home with a DIY Virtual Plunge kit.

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Community First was the presenting sponsor and employees participated by plunging down a hill, selling icons at area branches, hosting bake sales and raffling themed baskets. These efforts raised more than $30,000 to support the Special Olympic activities that kids like James depend on.
Overall, the event has so far raised $416,054 throughout Wisconsin. The contributions from Community First members and employees will stay in Northeast Wisconsin, supporting 136 athletes for one year.
Not having to jump in the cold lake was quite a motivator,” said Lisa Romenesko, Member Contact Service Specialist, who has a personal connection to Special Olympics. “My special needs sister-in-law and her two adult sons have participated in Special Olympics for years.”
Her nephews looked forward to the games every year and they were devastated last year when the pandemic cancelled all the planned events. “Then, in July my sister-in-law passed away unexpectedly, and the boys were without a Mom,” Lisa said. “It was very difficult for them to understand she was gone (since) with COVID they were not able to see her or say goodbye.”
Lisa said her nephews like to compete in Special Olympics swimming and bocce ball. “Being able to participate is so important for their mental and physical well-being. They are able to do ‘normal’ things, compete and build relationships. For many, this is their only social activity.”
Every year, Community First employees and members show up to help make a difference and this year was no exception. “Our team is used to ‘finding a way’ for our members, so they embraced this new COVID-friendly event and did what they could to make the most of it,” said Mutschler. “It’s wonderful to see everyone having a good time and impacting lives at the same time.”

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