Seymour staff members earn fundraising award at Polar Plunge


Six Seymour Community School Corp. staff members recently were freezin’ for a reason.

With snow falling and the water at 46 degrees, Meigan Vest, Gretchen Booher, Jordyn Henkle, D.J. Henkle, Kathy Sunbury and Craig Owens participated in the Polar Plunge at Versailles State Park in Versailles.

While they may have been cold, they were warm on the inside knowing they helped Special Olympics Indiana with its largest fundraiser.

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Events were set at 16 sites around the state between Feb. 3 and March 3.

All proceeds benefit Special Olympics Indiana, a not-for-profit organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in more than 20 Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It reaches more than 13,000 athletes across Indiana.

The funds will give athletes the means to train locally and compete at the state level in a number of sports. The program is being revived in Jackson County.

Vest, a special education teacher at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School, said this was her third time taking the plunge, which requires raising the “bare minimum” of $75.

She was used to the cold weather because the first time she and Booher, a special education teacher at Seymour Middle School, plunged in 2009, there was snow on the ground, and ice had to be cut so people could jump in the water.

“So even given the cold climate, snow and water being 46 degrees, it only made it more exciting to plunge,” Vest said of the Feb. 17 event in Versailles. “It wouldn’t have been a Polar Plunge had we had the 70-degree weather like we had a few days prior to the plunge.”

She said the Seymour group was among nearly 50 plungers at Versailles State Park. Some wore costumes and silly outfits, and a few even wore bathing suits.

“We sported our T-shirts that matched and the least amounts of layers as possible,” Vest said. “We plunged into 46-degree water as far and as fast as we could, then booked it to the tents to change.”

Getting out of the water was worse than being in the water, she said.

“It felt like straight needles shooting through your body,” Vest said. “It took about 30 minutes to get the feeling back into your feet, but the cause for plunging was well worth the few minutes of misery you endure.”

Booher had similar thoughts.

“It was crazy to think that the temperature had been around 60 degrees just a couple of days before,” she said. “I had forgotten how cold the water actually is. I definitely didn’t remember it being so chilly. The worst part for me was getting back out of the water and to the tent. It felt like I had little needles poking me.”

The Seymour group received an award for its fundraising efforts. Collecting $2,200, they brought home the top teacher/coach award for the most money raised.

They exceeded their goal of $2,000. Vest said the group she plunged with two other times also received awards for raising the most funds.

This year’s fundraisers included selling root beer floats for students at Jackson Elementary, jeans week for teachers at Jackson and a Valentine’s dance at the middle school. They also received online donations from friends and family through

Vest said it’s good to know Jackson County will benefit from their efforts.

“It means so much to know our county will receive some of those funds, especially given the fact they have just recently developed a new team this year, which will come with a lot of expenses,” she said. “All of the work through our fundraisers was well worth it to know they will be able to use it to further their team.”

Before Christmas break, Vest received an email about Special Olympics being revived in Jackson County and needing volunteers and athletes.

She signed up as a volunteer and decided it was time to gather a group of school employees to do the Polar Plunge again.

“So out of excitement for that, I wanted to participate and find ways to give money to this great organization,” she said. “As a special education teacher, I work with students who have disabilities that hinder participating in regular sports or activities. I want those students to feel like they are a part of our school and community, and Special Olympics is a great way to allow those to be involved.”

Vest said Seymour piloted Champions Together three years ago. That’s a partnership between the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics Indiana that promotes servant leadership among student-athletes while changing their lives and the lives of those with intellectual disabilities.

Students with disabilities in preschool through eighth grade spend the school year practicing a variety of events to be ready for a competitive event in the spring.

Besides allowing them to participate in sporting events, the program allows the students to prepare for getting involved with Special Olympics when they are older.

“I love being a part of that committee and program and look forward to preparing our students for that event in May,” Vest said. “They, too, look forward to this day. The smiles on their faces say it all. I just really enjoy seeing these athletes be happy doing things they can enjoy and excel at. Their smiles and personalities are just the best.”

For Vest and Booher, it’s important to help an organization like Special Olympics.

“It was great having fellow teachers plunge with me,” Vest said. “We all feel passionate about this organization and the students we teach daily, so to have them commit to this meant a lot to me. One of my best friends who I met my first year of teaching plunged, Gretchen … so having her by my side to do these things means a lot.”

Booher said being a special education teacher was her lifelong dream.

“It has and continues to bring so much joy to my heart,” she said. “This population of students is very near and dear to me.”

Both women encourage others to sign up for next year’s Polar Plunge or help with other Special Olympics events or fundraisers.

“Plunging or raising money for Special Olympics just gives you a warm feeling that you can do something great to help this organization continue serving people with disabilities,” Vest said.

“Some of the people who plunged were the athletes, and they are just some of the happiest people you will meet that you want to be around them because their smiles are contagious,” she said. “If only everyone could be as happy as some of these people who face daily challenges.”

If you’re not up for plunging into cold water for a good cause, you can be a virtual plunger by collecting online donations.

“I would just encourage anyone and everyone, given the chance, to support Special Olympics,” Booher said. “Even if you aren’t into the idea getting into freezing cold water in February, there is always a way to show your support.”

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For information about Special Olympics Indiana-Jackson County, contact county coordinator Shellie McCulley by email at [email protected].

For information about Special Olympics Indiana, visit


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