SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Nineteen residents from Scotch Plains and Fanwood take the 27th annual Polar Bear Plunge in Seaside Heights to benefit Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) on Saturday, Feb. 22. Another record year is anticipated with close to 7,500 plungers registered and nearly $2 million raised. 

Among the local participants will be Rev. Richard Burdett, whose son, Damian, is participating for the fourth year in a row. His "Party Animals:" team raised $1,166 for the cause.

"It is an event our family attends each year to support SONJ. My son is a former SONJ athlete and now volunteers and helps with the training of Special Olympic athletes," Rev. Burdett said. "My wife and I are SONJ Coaches and work with a group training the athletes of the "All Stars" team in Scotch Plains, headed by Carol & Pastor Chaz Hutchinson of the SP Baptist Church."

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Among the other local participants, Robert Miller of Scotch Plains is making his 6th plunge, Fanwood resident Rachel Armus' Bright Beginnings Bears has raised nearly $2,000, and Neal Auricchio is part of the Woodbridge PBA Local #38 team, which raised $5,242. 

The Seaside Plunge is organized by the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics New Jersey, the largest grass-roots fundraising organization for Special Olympics New Jersey. Other notable supporters include the NJ State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Wawa, NJ 101.5 FM, and News 12 New Jersey.

In existence since 1968, Special Olympics New Jersey is part of a worldwide program of sports training and athletic competition open to individuals with intellectual disabilities. Recognized by the International Olympic Committee, Special Olympics New Jersey promotes global athlete leadership and is dedicated to the movement of empowerment and dignity. Its goal is to change attitudes within communities about people with intellectual disabilities emphasizing potential, ability and acceptance. Special Olympics New Jersey consists of more than 25,000 athletes, 26,000 volunteers and 20,000 family members.

"I have always had a special place in my heart for Special Olympics as my cousin has been an athlete for over 30 years and my sister became a special education teacher, and now serves as a coach and many other volunteer roles with Special Olympics Kentucky (my home state)," said Jeremy Davis, SONY Director Communications and a Fanwood resident, who joined the organization in 2017. "I jumped at the chance to work with an amazing group of individuals who work tirelessly and selflessly to make a real difference in the lives of others. Working here is not just a job."

"We see the impact our movement has on the lives of individuals with and without intellectual disabilities and get to be motivators of change for inclusion and equality, creating a much more positive world," Davis said.

The mission of Special Olympic New Jersey is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities by giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.