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Polar Bear Jump benefiting charities

2/6/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Maria Lindsay

Area residents are shown participating in last year’s Portage Lakes Polar Bear Jump.
Photo: Lew Stamp
NEW FRANKLIN — The Portage Lakes Polar Bear Club is jumping long this year to reach a fundraising goal of $100,000 for two charities.

The club, started in 2004 by Coventry residents Kelly and Heather Pariso as a fun winter activity, hosts an annual event that invites area residents to jump into Turkeyfoot Lake off of the beach in Portage Lakes State Park to raise money for charities. The 11th annual Portage Lakes Polar Bear Jump will take place Feb. 22 at 2 p.m.

“We are hoping to pull a ‘Super Bowl’ and time the weather just right,” said Kelly Pariso regarding this winter’s cold weather.

The selected charities for this year’s event are Camp Quality Ohio, which also was selected in 2012, and the Ronald McDonald House of Akron, which is a first-time beneficiary. Jumpers can select which organization they want to benefit or choose both.

Camp Quality supports children with cancer and their families through various activities, including a weeklong overnight camping event next to Rex Lake, according to event organizers. According to jump organizers, $1,000 funds one child for a week at this camp.

Ronald McDonald House offers parents a place to stay while their child is being treated at Akron Children’s Hospital, and in 2012, the house served 14,286 individuals, with services provided for a minimal request of $10 per night, according to event organizers. Pariso said they are hoping to raise $50,000 for the house this year, which will endow one room in recognition of all Polar Bear jumpers.

Event organizers also have issued a Corporate Challenge to local businesses, with tents available through Sully’s Rental for them.

Pariso stated last year, jumpers from FirstEnergy raised more than $10,000, which was matched through a company foundation grant. Also, 20 jumpers representing the law office of Kisling, Nestico and Redick raised an average $500 each. The largest team overall was from GOJO Industries, with 30 jumpers dressed as penguins.

Pariso said those teams are bigger this year, and 17 from Akron Family Dental also have signed up to participate.

“We are encouraging companies to join in the fun and help our selected charities,” said Pariso. “This event is a great team-building opportunity for businesses. It also offers employees a chance to tell your boss to ‘jump in the lake’ — literally.”

Since the inaugural Portage Lakes Polar Bear Jump 10 years ago, more than 750 jumpers have raised about $390,000 for seven different charities, including $85,000 for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank last year, according to event organizers.

Other charities and donations that have been made include: Akron Children’s Hospital, $13,000 in 2004; Haven of Rest Ministries, $16,000 in 2005; Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, $165,000 in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2013; the American Cancer Society, $77,000 in 2007, 2010 and 2012; the March of Dimes, $22,000 in 2008; and American Cancer Society, Stewart’s Caring Place and Camp Quality, shared $85,000 in 2012, according to organizers.

This past November, the Portage Lakes Polar Bear Club received the Special Recognition Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals for its efforts, according to Pariso.

Registration for the Polar Bear Jump will begin at noon, with jumping starting at 2 p.m. A minimum donation of $25 is required to participate, and a $100 donation earns the participant a free T-shirt. Jumpers are welcome to don a costume for the jump, but participants are asked to keep the outfit family friendly.

A donation of $500 or more per person will earn a Very Important Polar Bear designation, which offers priority check-in and jumping, a free mug good for refills of coffee or hot chocolate that day, a concierge to help during the jump and special recognition.

Those who do not want to jump but want to make a donation to support either charity are welcomed as “Chilly Chickens,” with donations for this category accepted only through a link at www.PortageLakesPolarBearClub.com. For $50, donors will get an “I am too chicken to jump” T-shirt, and a person in a chicken outfit will jump for them during intermission.

Registration is available online until Feb. 18 at 5 p.m. An early check-in is being offered Feb. 21 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Dano’s Lakeside Pub, 3910 S. Main St. Jumpers can pick up their registration packets at that time.

Check-in also will be available on the day of the event at noon.

Tailgaters are welcome to the event, but alcohol is prohibited in the park. Participants and supporters are being asked to carpool due to the popularity of the event.

For more details about the jump, visit the website. The Portage Lakes State Park is located at 5031 Manchester Road.

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