Polar Plunge: top donors discuss why they give to Special Olympics Iowa


Ryan Bretoi/Iowa State Daily

Members of the Greek community sign in before they participate in 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

Students in Iowa State’s sorority and fraternity community have individually raised hundreds to thousands of dollars for the 23rd annual Polar Bear Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Iowa.

Their personal stories add to the motive behind accumulating a large donation, and they share their secrets to fundraising in hopes that it will increase student involvement, donations and opportunities for athletes in upcoming years.

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.”

Interested donors can click here to donate to Brase, Mathews or additional teams and individuals.