Greeks try and hit record donation for annual Polar Plunge


Ryan Bretoi/Iowa State Daily

Two fraternity brothers dive into the freezing cold water during the Polar Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics outside of the Memorial Union on April 1. The Greek community together raised nearly $356,000 by the time the plunge started. 

Tia Snyder

Not many people would pay to jump into a pool of ice water, but that’s not the case for Iowa State’s sorority and fraternity community. 

The Polar Bear Plunge will be at State Gym from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Check-in begins at 4 p.m. and each team has 20 minutes in their designated time slot to jump. The funds will go towards different sporting events for Special Olympics athletes such as dodgeball, cheerleading, swimming and softball. As with any event, the athletes will need assistance with travel, uniforms, coaching and equipment.

Individuals are raising a minimum of $75 to participate in the annual Polar Bear Plunge. Last year’s donation of $377,000 was a record for the largest donation received by one organization to Special Olympics Iowa.

“We are bringing athletes and Greeks together with the connected value of social justice,” said Julianne Faulconer, community service coordinator for Greek Week Central.

Gabe Mathews, senior in aerospace engineering and Phi Kappa Psi member, has been a top donor for Polar Bear Plunge throughout college.

“People know me as the kid who earns all the donations,” Mathews said.

Previously, Mathews raised $950 his freshman year, $3,300 sophomore year and $2,000 his junior year.

Throughout the whole process, Mathews said his favorite part is seeing what impact his cumulative donations have on the athletes. He also enjoys meeting them at the team dinner.

Sydney Brase, freshman in public relations and Pi Beta Phi member, plans to post a final reminder for friends and family to raise as much as possible.

Brase and Mathews are proactive when asking for donations to support Special Olympics Iowa.

Brase said she reached out to family, friends and companies and created personalized messages. At the end of her message, she asked the reader to pass her request on to other possibly interested parties she might not know, and she said she believes that has helped her be a top donor.

Through word of mouth, she was able to earn an unexpected $100 donation from a chiropractic company.

She also actively involved her chapter, offering to send her message request template and help people set up their donation page.

“I’m not afraid to call out my friends and chapter members,” Brase said. “I want the athletes to benefit as much as possible and wanted all the girls in my chapter to create a page.”

Individuals are responsible for creating their own donation page, so she assisted those who didn’t know how.

For Mathews, he said he asked his mom’s colleagues, family friends and high school teachers for donations. He said he believed his method to success involved reaching out to as many people as possible instead of stopping at close family.

Mathews also assists his chapter by advising underclassmen. He helps them format their message request and posts on Facebook.

Brase and Mathews’ philanthropic interests started at early ages.

Brase’s dad is a men’s high school basketball coach, and he organized an event so athletes from Special Olympics Iowa could shoot hoops and play informal games after the team’s practice.

The pure joy she saw from those athletes inspired her to raise hundreds of dollars for Special Olympics Iowa years later. She experienced firsthand how the donations affected their happiness.

Sara Cummings, athlete from Special Olympics Iowa, joined Brase’s team for dinner, and Brase said the experience was humbling and genuine. Brase said she thought Cummings’ funny, sarcastic and care-free personality shined at the event.

Mathews’ mother is a pediatrician who works closely with children with special needs. He volunteered and formed relationships with those children.

When Mathews first heard the Polar Bear Plunge would help Special Olympics Iowa, he said he knew this would be the event for which he’d focus on raising money.

“The message of Polar Plunge is close to my heart because my mom works with those kids,” Mathews said. “They’re family friends now.”

Hanna Peters, a senior in apparel merchandising and design, and member of Alpha Omicron Pi, has volunteered with Special Olympics Iowa every year since she was 12.

“It’s amazing seeing how happy [the athletes] were to compete and do things we take for advantage,” Peters said.

Peters said she has seen firsthand how the money donated affects the athletes and thinks they wouldn’t be able to participate in as many events without the generous donors. She also enjoys seeing the donations go towards a local organization so the Greek community and donors can see their effect.

Peters also stressed the importance of continuing to raise money after the $75 minimum to her chapter so as many athletes as possible can benefit from the funds raised.

There were 3,400 students at last year’s event, but if members of the Ames community would like to participate, then they can create a team or an individual fundraiser. Same rules apply though and they would have to raise at least $75 to have the honor of jumping in the ice-cold pool. 

Donations opened Jan. 24 and will close Friday at 10 p.m. This year, the committee opened donations one week earlier than previous years to provide additional time for donors.

Visit to donate or learn more about Special Olympics Iowa. Donors can contribute funds to a specific team, person or Greek Week Central if you have no affiliation. Donors can also send in checks made out to Special Olympics Iowa with the team or person of their choice written in the memo.