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South Hills thrill-seekers to take plunge

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 12:41 p.m.

Friendly banter and double dares are the motivation that will send about 30 South Hills residents and community leaders into the icy Monongahela River on New Year's Day.

Members of the Brentwood Baldwin Whitehall Chamber of Commerce, Brentwood Business Owners Association, Economic Development South and Brentwood Park Initiative are raising money for the organizations to jump in the Monongahela River on Jan. 1 as part of the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Plunge. The jump will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the Mon Warf.

“I think it's kind of fun,” said John Slater, owner of the John F. Slater Funeral Home, who works with the organizations.

This is the second year that those community groups are participating in the plunge. They will kick off the event today, Dec. 27, with a toast at Legacy Lanes at 5:30 p.m.

The Brentwood Baldwin Whitehall participants will meet by a sign at the Mon Wharf, next to one of the large pillars after 8 a.m.

“I think people have become aware of it this year,” Slater said.

Those participating with the organizations are asked to make at least a $25 donation, Slater said. Those less willing to brave the icy waters also could sponsor a jumper.

Last year, 13 people jumped with the local groups, raising almost $1,500, Slater said.

Those participating should dress warm, bring a big towel, get there early and drink hot chocolate, Slater said. Some people wear superhero, patriotic or Santa costumes as well.

“It's fun to be a part of that,” Slater said. “It certainly gets people in a good mood.”

Slater's campaign to recruit participants this year can be described as persistent, but enthusiastic and in good fun, said Greg Jones, director of Economic Development South.

Jones said Slater asked him several times this year to participate, but it took Slater superimposing a headshot of Jones onto the body of a polar bear and displaying it at a meeting for Jones to finally agree to jump in the water.

“It actually became a little bit of a running joke at (meetings),” Jones said. “I was slowly realizing that there was no way to avoid that this year. I'm going to actually have to do this.”

Participating in the polar plunge is just as much about raising awareness and funds for the organizations as it is about the fun, Jones said. As of Dec. 20, he raised $200 from sponsors.

“It's a good way to raise money for some of these groups,” Jones said.

When applying for grants, the entities allocating funds like to see demonstrated local interest in a group or project, Jones said. One of the ways to show interest is by how much money is donated.

Economic Development South is a nonprofit organization that works to revamp Brentwood, Whitehall and Baldwin and Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Carrick and Overbrook. In 2012, EDS received more than $400,000 in grants.

“We've had a pretty successful year for fundraising,” Jones said.

Still, Jones said it's Slater's zest for recruiting jumpers that makes the event fun.

“This thing is John Slater through and through,” Jones said. “His enthusiasm for it is really contagious.”

Slater's enthusiasm also got Frank Cappetta, a Brentwood Park Initiative director, to sign up.

When Cappetta jumps into the cold water, he will do so in pink swimming trunks, a pink T-shirt or, as other friends suggested, a pink Speedo, he said.

“I hate jumping into cold water,” Cappetta said. “I've been taking cold showers to get prepared.”

Cappetta raised $1,200 in sponsorships as of Dec. 20, he said.

Participation in the polar plunge is positive awareness for the organizations and the projects on which they are working, Cappetta said.

The Brentwood Park Initiative is a nonprofit group made up of community leaders and residents who have spent the last four years raising money and obtaining grants for the $8 million project. Phases one and two of the Brentwood Park renovation are scheduled to begin in 2013.

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at lvanwert@tribweb.com.

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