Is a membership organization dedicated to providing resources and supportive services to people with mental illness so that they may have a fulfilling life, including access to employment, education, housing, health care, and the opportunity to be productive, contributing members of their community.
What started in 2003 as a group of mostly Christian Brothers Academy (Lincroft, NJ) alumni having some fun on New Year’s Day has evolved into a major annual fundraising event drawing close to 6,000 spectators and as many as 1000 plungers who dip, jump, leap and body surf into the Atlantic Ocean on the morning of the first day of the New Year to raise money for worthy grassroots charities.
“It was just for fun at first,” says Steve Brennan (Rumson NJ), “a great way to start the New Year and raise money to help a good cause.” Clifford is one of the original core group of friends who formed the nonprofit Sons of Ireland organization in 2002. The association is dedicated to the principles of brotherhood, charity and community service, and supports worthy non-profits within the Monmouth County, NJ area.
“The plunge became an annual tradition and we started to charge twenty-five dollars to anyone who wanted to participate and then we donated the money to charity,” recalls Brennan. “I’m not sure that any of us, looking back, imaged that in ten years we’d still be doing this or that it would become so large or such an anticipated tradition along the Jersey Shore.”
The Sons of Ireland Polar Bear Plunge has raised over $600,000 for charities including The 9/11 Fund for the Education of Monmouth County Children, The Ashley Lauren Foundation, The Barn for the Poorest of the Poor, Clean Ocean Action, The Mercy Center, The Wellness Community, Holiday Express, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middlesex & Monmouth
Counties, 180 Turning Lives Around, Family Promises of Monmouth County, Family Promise of Monmouth County, The Boys & Girls Club, and Special Olympics.
The event was originally held at Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright which was very important to establishing the event as a tradition in the local Two River community. In 2008, the organizers were approached by Asbury Park and invited to use Convention Hall and the Asbury Park Boardwalk, which has really helped support the event as it has grown. “We have a
very large, heated enclosure with Convention Hall,” says Dennis Nitka (Rumson, NJ), another of the Sons of Ireland. “This gives us a large warm space to gather before and after the Plunge, plus plenty of parking, welcoming local businesses and other amenities. This year, to celebrate our tenth anniversary, we have invited both Brian Kirk and the Jirks to perform. They are one of the best bands on the Jersey Shore, and they are guaranteed to get everyone dancing at our post-plunge party.” There will also be children’s entertainment at this very family friendly event. “Each plunger is asked to raise a minimum of $100,” says Brennan. “We have people of all ages who come out, from high school sports teams to
groups of friends, people celebrating a milestone like a fiftieth birthday, people who just love the ocean…sometimes entire families take the plunge. It’s something all the spectators really enjoy watching.”