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Stafford Primary Polar Plunge team takes to the Columbia River late February

TIDINGS PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL  - Pictured here are some of the Stafford Snow Leopard team members. Standing left to right; Phillip Mast, Dane Thomsen, Lucas Thomsen, Kasie Hansen, Kate Sewell, Simone Del Carlo, Karli Sanders, Lily Augustyn and Lauren Kamali; bottom left to right; Natalie Howorth and Sydney Brandvold.Come February and Oregon has reached the height of winter. Rivers, lakes and oceans cease to hold seasonal swimmers, except for the occasional daredevil in a wetsuit. It would be crazy to think that hundreds of people would plunge into the river. But they do.

Stafford Primary's Polar Plunge team — the Stafford Snow Leopards — is one of many teams participating in the 2018 Polar Plunge in an effort to fundraise for Oregon Special Olympics.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, at Broughton Beach on 43rd and Marine Drive in Portland, teams will check in starting at 8:30 a.m. to participate in a 5K fun run and then plunge into an icy Columbia River.

"I went to a workshop the year before last and this was one of the options of things to do in the community — sponsored by Special Olympics — and I just latched onto it," said Kasie Hansen, Stafford's learning specialist.

SUBMITTED PHOTO  - Principal Sara McCarney, left, Jennifer Spencer-Iiams and Kasie Hansen had fun during last year's Polar Plunge. Hansen created a Polar Plunge team at Inza R. Wood Middle School two years ago and when she came to Stafford last year, she decided to do the same.

"I don't have any special connection but I just love it. It's a great cause," Hansen said.

"We also had the director of special ed services, Jennifer Spencer-Iiams, (who) has been a member of our team and she'll be on our team this year as well. One year we had the school superintendent; we are going to invite her to join our team this year as well."

Last year, Stafford received an award for raising the most money out of teams in the greater Portland area. It was one of the only primary schools that came close to raising $5,000. And the teams aren't just K-12 schools, they're community groups like police and fire departments.

TIDINGS PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL  - Kasie Hansen, left, and Sara McCarney are proud supporters of raising awareness for Oregon Special Olympics.Snow Leopard team member Lucas Thomsen, 11, participated last year and is returning this year.

"I thought it would be fun to join it and help raise for the Special Olympics so other kids with disabilities could do the Special Olympics," said Thomsen, adding that his favorite part was advocating for the cause since he was on vacation during the actual event last year.

"I'm excited for doing the plunge and doing the 5K because I thought it would be a fun thing to do after we raise the money; I thought it was a great program."

TIDINGS PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL  - Sydney Brandvold spreads awareness about the Polar Plunge and Oregon Special Olympics during a morning assembly.Hansen encourages not just students, but staff and community members to join their team. She added that people can join up until the day of the event.

Special Olympics Oregon requires $50 to plunge and $25 for the 5K, but Hansen plans on raising enough money to cover students who aren't able to raise enough to pay for the event.

On Feb. 17, from 4-8 p.m. the Chipotle on Nyberg Road in Tualatin will donate 50 percent of its profits to Special Olympics Oregon. Hansen also plans on doing a school raffle.

She hopes to get more students involved and aware of the Special Olympics by "instilling that desire to help others, volunteerism and be involved in school activities and community activities."

Team member Sydney Brandvold, 10, understands this.

"I think it's good for the community to help out," she said. TIDINGS PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL  - Instructional Coordinator Meg Leonard, left, Karli Sanders and Simone Del Carlo sing the Stafford song with the Polar Plunge bear during a morning assembly regarding Oregon Special Olympics and the Polar Plunge team.

To donate or join the Stafford Snow Leopards, visit http://soor.convio.net/site/TR/Plunge/General?px=1002422&pg=personal&fr_id=1104.

West Linn Tidings reporter Clara Howell can be reached at pamplinmedia.com or 503-636-1281 ext:112.

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