Freezin' for reason a hit for Camp Sunshine
The first-ever Rhode Island Polar Dip will go down as an extraordinary show of community and humanity.
The event orchestrated by Team Henriques of Warwick was similar to those New Year's Day plunges when people scoot into frigid waters to raise money for various charities.
Some people, in fact, drove here especially from New Jersey, Virginia and such destinations as Columbus, Ohio to participate in Saturday's Polar Dip.
With large snowflakes falling from a stormy-looking gray sky and the temperature hovering below freezing, nearly 100 people - most of them friends of the Henriques family or friends of their friends - didn't mind running into the 41-degree waters off Oakland Beach to raise money for Camp Sunshine.
Camp Sunshine is a multi-acre camp in Casco, Maine that supports children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The camp, which people attend for free as a result of events like the Polar Dip, has the distinction of being the only program in the nation whose mission is to address the impact of life-threatening illness on every member of the immediate family - the ill child, parents and siblings.
It's also where Team Henriques has been among the extraordinary volunteers in recent years.
The Polar Dip was so successful, in fact, a total of 10 Rhode Island families - and perhaps even two more by the March 31 donation deadline - Saturday's Polar Dip far surpassed all expectations and wound up with more the $20,000 in donations.
"We couldn't have asked for anything better!" said Becky Henriques, a data and business retail consultant for Verizon Wireless. "This being our first year, we didn't now what to expect and therefore we set realistic goals. We expected 30 to 40 dippers. That number tripled, though, because those people are our friends and they brought more people as well."
The norm a first-year Polar Dip raises, Hendriques said, "is from $6,000 to $8,000 and most of those plunges take three to four years to get to the $20,000 plateau."
Saturday's Polar Dip was an overwhelming success for a number of reasons.
While the event was coordinated by the Henriques family, including Becky, her sister Christina, who is an airline attendant for United Airlines, and their parents Jack and Carole Henriques, the Collins family of Warwick raised close to $6,000 in memory of the late Zachary Collins, who passed away 11 years ago when he was just 4 years old.
"When Zachary was alive, the Collins family attended camp," Becky Henriques said. "They continue to go and support the camp every year. The camp creates such an incredible bond between people."
Livening things, Becky and Christina Henriques wore multi-colored Hawaiian Luau dresses, Aloha Leis and flowers in their hair for their Polar Dip. Their friends Lauren Lichtenauer and her twin sister Kristen Lichtenauer were dressed as bacon and eggs.
"Lauren and Kristen drove in from Columbus, Ohio to participate in the Polar Dip," Becky Henriques said. "We met them at camp in 2009 and stayed so close. We really only know each other from that camp and that one time created such an incredible bond. That's what Camp Sunshine does; it creates tremendous friendships for people from all around the country."
The Lichtenauers and the six-member family of Charlie and Sue Wynne, who came in from New Jersey, stayed at the "Henriques Hotel," their weekend headquarters until yesterday when they began their 13-hour drive back to Ohio.
"Quite a few people stayed at mom and dad's house in Warwick Neck," Becky Henriques said. "We had about nine people there ... my sister and I ... there were a lot of people for dinner and even breakfast the next morning. We had a house full; a fun atmosphere for sure!"
Although they didn't stay at "Henriques Hotel" in Warwick Neck, Becky Hendriques' Verizon Wireless co-worker Erika Allard made the trek from Connecticut and Becky Diaz came to the Polar Dip from her home in Pawtucket.
When asked why she chose to take the Dip, Allard said, "I've always wanted to do something like this for a good cause."
And that cause - a.k.a. Camp Sunshine - is why people like Sarah Silvaggio of Coventry, who is a nursing student, were at the first-ever Polar Dip.
Becky said Silvaggio's daughter, Sophia Ares, 5, has a brain tumor.
It's children like Sophia Ares and those who are diagnosed with diseases such as cancer, kidney disease, lupus, solid organ transplants and other life threatening illnesses that attend one of the weeklong camps.
"The camp's focus is on alleviating the strain that a life-threatening illness takes not only on the sick child, but also on other family members," Christina said. "Families have an opportunity to rebuild their relations together and meet other families facing similar challenges."
And that's why nearly 100 people, who were wearing a variety of colorful garb and were from all walks of life and different states, had a special reason for freezin' Saturday during what could quite possibly become an annual event.