Editor’s note: This story is part of our “50 Stories of People Helping People” series. As we celebrate Penske’s 50th anniversary in 2019, we are spotlighting associates every Friday who are making a difference in their communities.
On a recent sun-washed morning, a group of Wisconsin Penske associates traded business casual for pool party chic as they took a plunge to raise money for Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI).
It was the first time the five associates participated in the Polar Plunge fundraiser, which benefits more than 10,000 Special Olympics athletes across the state involved in 18 different sports.
While it was a balmy 27 degrees when the associates jumped into the pool in the parking lot of Lambeau Field, the warm feeling of giving back to the community masked the temperature.
“Being a unique event, it got people excited for it, and it really brought us together,” said Tanner Myers, a rental sales representative in De Pere, Wisconsin, who organized the Penske plunge team.
In addition to participating in the plunge, the district also donated trucks to SOWI for their Polar Plunge events in Green Bay and Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
The Polar Plunge fundraiser has been held for more than 20 years and has raised more than $20 million for Special Olympics athletes. The Oshkosh event is one of SOWI’s largest plunge events in the state, followed closely behind by Green Bay.
The funds help the organization fulfill its mission to provide year-round sports training and competition in 18 Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
“This money raised goes right back to the athletes. All of the donations go to support the sporting events Special Olympics puts on year-round and for healthcare screenings to make sure that the athletes are healthy and they can have fun,” said Hailey Aderman, SOWI’s director of special events.
Having groups, such as the Penske associates, participate is important to the success of the plunge events.
“It’s bringing the community together. You are helping the athletes in your areas. So making it fun and having that team aspect of raising money and plunging together is very powerful,” Aderman said.
The truck donation was another key component to the success of the plunge.
“Penske also donated a truck so that we could get all the supplies and bring the pool to Lambeau. All of those donations help us keep the cost down so that all the money can go back to the athletes,” she said.
People Helping People
Penske’s Myers interned with the Special Olympics in Arizona where he was able to see first-hand the impact similar fundraisers had on the organization and the people it served.
From the start, associates in Wisconsin supported the idea of the fundraiser for such a worthy cause.
“I think everyone identified with what Special Olympics was trying to do. They were really happy to be a part of it, even if they weren’t directly taking the plunge,” Myers said. “Everyone was excited to donate to such a worthy cause.”
An added feature, the “Toss Your Boss” incentive, where teams that raised $1,000 were able to jump in the pool with a boss, was one that many associates could not pass up.
Tony Stromer, Green Bay’s district rental manager, served as the boss. “I was trying my best to prepare mentally before jumping in the water, but it was definitely a shock to the system,” Stromer said.
In addition to Stromer and Myers, the plunging team included Lydia Engstrom, management trainee in Neenah; and Richard Knuth, management trainee and Jayrd Callender, consumer development manager, both in Green Bay.
Knuth was more than happy to trade a dip in a cold pool to support such a worthy cause.
“Children and adults who participate in Special Olympics are an inspiration; not only while competing in the Olympics but day after day facing those challenges in life and never giving up,” Knuth said. “Taking a moment to jump in some cold water is minimal compared to what those with disabilities overcome every day. They are our heroes.”
By Bernie Mixon