Jack and Carole Henriques are ready to jump into Greenwich Bay for a cause they care deeply about – Camp Sunshine.
But the couple wants company – lots of company – and with the help of their daughters and friends, they hope the first Rhode Island Polar Dip, at noon on Saturday, Feb. 16, will be a success.
The goal is to raise $25,000, which would be enough to send 12 Rhode Island families to Camp Sunshine. The plunge will take place at Oakland Beach, followed by a party at Marley’s on the Beach, where people who took the dip will also be able to change into dry clothes.
Actually, it was their daughters, Christina and Becky, who introduced their parents to Camp Sunshine eight to 10 years ago. The plunges are a major source of fundraising for the very special camp in Casco, Maine. Christina is the mastermind behind the dip here. She’s been rallying friends to jump in on the 16th.
But that’s getting ahead of the story.
Several years ago, Jack and Carole were visiting their Warwick Neck neighbors, Bill and Madeline Nixon, who were in Maine at the time. Christina, who works for United Airlines, and Becky, who works for Verizon, were using their vacation time to volunteer at the camp. They asked their parents to come and see what the camp is all about.
Carole was amazed by what she discovered.
“It is like a resort,” she said of the camp that, since its beginning in 1984, has provided children with life-threatening illnesses a place to relax with their families for a week at no cost. Volunteers, who almost entirely run the camp, stay there as well.
In the course of a year, the camp conducts 27 sessions with 40 families each. The sessions last a week and are often disease specific, so children with brain tumors and their families will come together to be followed by those with Leukemia another week. Children range from newborn to 18 years old.
A mission of the camp is to address the impact a child’s illness has on his or her parents and siblings. The camp offers a range of activities; from swimming, boating, archery and soccer to special events, like bonfires and cookouts. Medical and psychosocial help is available around the clock.
Knowing many of the children she was seeing would probably not live too many years has weighed on Carole.
“There was this girl with red hair who was playing like an angel,” Carole recalled.
“I just lost it,” Carole said.
Christina intervened. She pulled her mother aside.
“She told me you can’t come here and cry,” said Carole.
Jack and Carole were hooked. They keep returning every year. Jack works in the kitchen and Carole does arts and crafts with the children.
About four years ago, they started attending the Polar Dips to watch their daughters, often clad in outlandish outfits, jump into freezing waters in different parts of the country. In 2010, and again the following year, they were in Reston, Va. Last February they went to Portland, Maine, where their girls were dressed as green and orange M&M candies. Jack decided to become part of their team. Polar Plungers that raise at least $100 receive an “I did it” T-shirt. Shirts also go to less daring participants who take the “chicken dip” and wade. Frequently, ill children and those that have recovered join in the effort.
“It was snowing,” Carole remembered. She did the chicken dip.
“My feet were stinging for an hour,” she remembers.
Jack just let himself go.
“You don’t think about it until you hit the water,” he said.
But the couple has been thinking about the first-ever Rhode Island Polar Dip. Jack talked with a neighbor, David Gravino, who owns Iggy’s. He signed on without hesitation, and offered the adjoining Marley’s as a place to change and get something warm.
“What a wonderful guy,” Jack said of Gravino, who will do the countdown as the crowd races for the chilly waters of Greenwich Bay.
It being the first year for a Rhode Island dip, Jack doesn’t know what to expect. He’s gotten $6,000 to $7,000 in pledges already.
Christina plans to make the Rhode Island dip a big splash from the start.
“We’re just going to have a big party afterward,” she said.
She said there would be fire pits outside Marley’s and a DJ. She has reached out to friends on Facebook, using the online service crowdrise.com to build attendance. She hopes for at least 200 dippers.
The plunges play a key role in fundraising efforts, says Michael Smith, director of special events. He said 11 plunges annually raise more than $350,000 for the camp.
“The reality of this event is that the discomfort our plungers feel for just a moment will never compare to what our families go through during the course of their child’s illness,” he said.
He said 700 families from seven countries and 44 states spent a week at the camp last year. Helping pull it all together were the 2,500 volunteers.
“I’m thrilled we’ve had so much support from the community,” Christina said.
Additional information is available at crowdrise.com/RhodeIslandPolarDip and at campsunshine.org.