Polar Plunge Fundraiser Raises Over $5,000

DEWITTVILLE — YMCA Camp Onyahsa closed a challenging year with a final fundraiser.

The director, Jon O’Brian, took a Polar Bear Plunge into the icy waters of Chautauqua Lake on New Year’s Eve to help raise over $5,000 for the camp. O’Brian said $5,000 was the event’s goal and it brought in $5,155; closing the financial gap for the operating year.

“Due to COVID, Onyahsa was unable to conduct overnight youth camping or to serve large group rentals after March,” he said. “We were able to responsibly offer expanded summer youth day camping, weekend overnight family programs, and outdoor YMCA fitness programs and small group rentals; but while these offerings met the camp’s mission to the community, they did not meet its funding needs.”

“However,” O’Brian continued, “we had a tremendous outpouring of support from the community, alumni, and camper families. We even had children donate to Onyahsa this year. It was really touching.”

With these efforts, the camp was close enough to meeting its financial needs with one more end-of-year fundraiser. Due to social-distancing needs, O’Brian decided to do a solo polar plunge broadcast on social media.

The Polar Bear Club is a summer tradition at camp, where resident campers opt to take a dip in the lake in the early morning. Years ago, O’Brian was the waterfront director and supervised this tradition, but he had not earned his Polar Bear patch since he was a child at the Camp.

“Thankfully, I finally earned it at this event,” he said.

However, he cautioned others against engaging in a similar activity without a lot of planning. “I started to acclimate to the cold several weeks ago, chose a shallow area of the camp’s shore, and had certified lifeguards on hand,” he explained.

Plans for the summer include a return of the 2020 large Day Camp Johen-goh program, and a small, low-density, traditional overnight youth camp. O’Brian hopes that by the autumn, group rentals and weekend youth overnighters, but noted that family use of cabins will remain.

“Despite the challenges of 2020, we learned a lot and now we are looking forward to next year,” O’Brian said. “Thanks to the success of our fundraising, including this final Polar Plunge event, we will begin 2021 with strength.”