STAC Students Help Local Charity for Children In Need

Andrew Dacuba and Jacob Holland

Taking a plunge into the icy December waters of the Hudson may not be the first thing that comes to mind as something that does anybody any good. But this year, students at STAC are helping an organization that’s taking this dive for a good cause.

Penguin Plunge Inc. is a nonprofit that helps the families of three seriously ill local children in meeting their medical costs by hosting fundraising events each year. They have raised over $600,000 for children in need since their founding in 2008.

Their most well-known event is the Penguin Plunge, a dip in the chilly Hudson river, that raises money for a good cause and gives participants an experience to remember.

To raise awareness for Penguin Plunge Inc. and their cause, communication students at STAC will lead a police-escorted “Happy Fleet” car parade on Sunday, December 5 as part of a semester-long public relations service-learning project.

Elaine Winship, communications professor at STAC, leads students through projects like this every semester. 

“Service learning allows students to build marketable skills and gain real world experience, while supporting not-for-profit organizations within the community,” she explains. These skills, Winship says, prepare students for potential internships and employment in the future.

Winship’s students have made use of their communications skills to raise awareness for the Penguin Plunge. In little over a month, they have considerably increased Penguin Plunge’s Instagram content. 

For these students, the “Happy Fleet” parade is the culminating event of all their work throughout the semester. 

Communication Arts student and senior Michael Parrot says, “This service-learning project has allowed me to build my PR skills and bolster my resume while giving back. It’s a win-win all around and I’m grateful for the experience.”

Barbara Noyes, Executive Director and founder of Penguin Plunge, praised these students for their effort to make a positive impact.

Noyes said, “We love their enthusiasm and dedication and already see many positive results of their efforts to raise awareness for our organization and this year’s ill children, 5-year-old Teagan Walsh and 2-year-old Jhenaé Fairclough.” 

The “Happy Fleet” will come to a stop at the Walsh home where STAC students dressed as penguins, Santa, and elves will sing and dance and present this year’s two “penguins” (recipients of the organization’s fundraising efforts) with holiday gifts.

For members of the community, the Penguin Plunge is just as big of an event as it is for students at STAC. Marci Ruanova, owner of the local Coney Express Ice Cream Truck, will provide free ice cream for the two “penguins.”

Ruanova states “I’m so happy to have the opportunity to participate in this event and put smiles on the faces of these sick children with my ice-cream!”

The parents of this year’s “penguins” are extremely grateful for the efforts of all those involved.

Jessica Walsh says, “We are so thankful for the support of the Penguin Plunge and continue to hope for a cure for our beloved daughter.” Her daughter Teagan Walsh was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma in July 2018 at just two years old. 

Kirk Fairclough says, “Because of the Penguin Plunge, my family now has hope that Jhenaé will continue to get the care she needs.” Ever since her first birthday, Fairclough’s daughter Jhenaé has been facing a tough battle with a rare form of childhood cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma.

Despite these children facing hardships at such a young age, Penguin Plunge, STAC students, and the local community have come together to make the holidays a little happier for them.

The “Happy Fleet” is open to all and will convene in the St. Thomas Aquinas College parking lot behind the Lougheed Library at 1 p.m. for car decorating. The fleet will depart and travel with police escort to 7 Gary Lane, in Orangeburg NY, home of Teagan Walsh.