NMU's Best Buddies chapter participated in Sunday's local Polar Plunge for Special Olympics, which raised $13,000. Best Buddies International is a nonprofit dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The NMU Best Buddies team consisted of chapter members and Special Olympics athletes.
“I like to volunteer for things and this is a good cause,” said Annika Nelson, a behavior analysis major who plans to work with individuals on the autism spectrum. “Best Buddies helps me feel more connected to people who don't always have opportunities to get involved or do things out in the community. We're helping them do that.”
Zoology major Seton Trost also took the plunge. She helped to establish the NMU chapter.
“We had Best Buddies where I went to high school,” Trost said. “When we got to college and there wasn't a program here, three other girls who have since graduated and I decided to bring it up here and start it in this area. I love it because I just love seeing how happy it makes the buddies and everyone. We currently work with individuals 18 and up because we only have a college program. But once Michigan gets a full state office, we'll have K-12 plus college. For me personally, I've learned a lot about how to program and leadership skills.”
Sam Bradbury of Marquette is a Special Olympics athlete who joined the Best Buddies team and benefits from the program. He raised about $500 of the team's total contribution to the cause, which exceeded $700. Sunday marked Bradbury's 10th polar plunge. He explained what he enjoys about the annual event.
“You get to jump in, get out, meet people and find out where they're from,” Bradbury said. He added that the NMU Best Buddies chapter enables him to “do all kinds of things: movies, Halloween and other holiday parties. It's very good.”
NMU was represented at the polar plunge in other ways beyond Best Buddies. Social work major Rachel Gerbig volunteers regularly for Special Olympics.
“It is really rewarding to see the impact of the sports on individuals in the community and how much joy it brings them; it really makes me happy,” said the social work major, just before she climbed the platform to leap into the cold water. “I help Special Olympics with the winter games, cross-country skiing and trips the athletes take downstate. My future career goal is to work with people in the mental health field and adults in the community.”
Det. Ken Love of NMU Public Safety volunteered to serve as a judge at the event. He helped to determine the winners for individual and team costumes, as well as best plunge. Love also coordinates the local Law Enforcement Torch Run/Walk for Special Olympics, held on NMU's campus. It is one of several in Michigan that generate financial support for more than 23,000 athletes who compete in Special Olympics in the state.