Money benefits SunDog Outdoor Expeditions to get more kids outdoors, off their screens, and expose them to environmental conservation

25 people. One freezing ocean plunge. $6,000 raised in 30 seconds

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 12:00pm
CAMDEN — On February 2, the average ocean temperature in the Camden Harbor was  33.6 degrees. That’s when 25 brave souls grit their teeth, threw off their long johns, ran down the boat launch and barreled into the ice-lined Camden Harbor for the Winterfest Polar Plunge. The pain was worth it: Each participant raised a certain amount of money for SunDog Outdoor Expeditions, so that Midcoast children have access to outdoor education.
“We had a six-year-old who was amazing and she probably raised $125,” said Jen Porter, program manager for SunDog Outdoor Expeditions, sponsor for the event. “All told, we managed to raise a little more than $6,000 that day, which will go back into kids’ scholarships for our spring programs.”
This is the first year that SunDog Outdoor Expeditions has run the Polar Plunge after taking over the fundraising tradition from the nonprofit Coastal Mountain Land Trust.
“For us, the Polar Plunge fits right into our expedition theme about challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone,” said Porter.
SunDog Outdoor Expeditions is only about two years old, a program focused on teaching outdoor skills and character development to middle-schoolers in the Midcoast. The SunDog program is under the umbrella of the Midcoast Outdoor Leadership Initiative (MOLI), which connects the resources of nine outdoor organizations in the Midcoast.
Lynne Brown, MOLI founder and president, said she was inspired to create a program where teens: "can get outdoors and unplugged while engaging in challenging activities that are healthy alternatives to traditional risky teen behavior. SunDog allows teens to learn about themselves and to contribute to the team and community."
With the long winters in Maine, SunDog hopes to get more kids outdoors, off their screens, and expose them to environmental conservation, while providing them with real life challenges.
“We’re really growing at a sustainable rate; our programs are full with waiting lists and we’re affordable,” said Porter. “We’re really looking to engage fifth through eighth graders from all different towns.”
The winter courses included Winter on Wheels, a fat tire biking program for fifth and sixth graders, and Earn Your Turns, a backcountry skiing/snow boarding adventure for seventh and eighth graders. Each course meets twice a week for six weeks to train and prepare for an expedition.
For the spring sessions, SunDog will offer a rock climbing course in local Midcoast spots for fifth and sixth graders, as well as a sea kayaking program for seventh and eighth graders.
The program’s core values, constituting resiliency, confidence, craftsmanship, and integrity, are part of each SunDog session.
Students also give back to the community by participating in a service-learning component.  This is similar to Hurricane Island Outward Bound’s core values and mission, and it’s no surprise that HIOBS is one of MOLI’s main collaborators.
After 12 sessions in each outdoor program, students put their skills to the test on a final two-day expedition.
“And we’re not just building skills and increasing physical fitness, we do pre- and post-surveys, instructor observation and program debriefs to track results,” said Porter. “Although it’s hard to make strong conclusions with small numbers of participants to date, the trend is positive.”
For the people who braved the icy waters, their effort went back to help kids who would love to participate in SunDog’s programs, but need a bit of financial assistance. And now thanks to 30 seconds of frosty endurance, they can.
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