HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Thousands of Horry County students and other organizations including the police, sheriff’s office and firefighters, jumped into the cold ocean Saturday for the Special Olympics.
This was after each person raised enough money to be eligible to plunge. Donations are still coming in, but right now $108,000 has been raised, the most ever before Special Olympics takes place. Among the biggest supporters are the students and teachers at North Myrtle Beach Middle School. In all, as of Tuesday, the school has raised $27,536 for the Special Olympics.
Because of their hard work, WMBF News had to meet the kids behind the dedicated fundraising. It’s not all about the money, we learned, it’s about the acceptance and love behind the kids who are the "Special Olympian” and their buddies, all part of the Unified Buddies Club.
“When we started doing the plunge, we realized we wanted to do more to involve Special Olympics and our kids. And so the Unified Buddy Project came up, and we kind of ran with it,” North Myrtle Beach Middle teacher and Polar Plunge go-to Lori Ruggieri said. “We decided we wanted our kids to be involved and get a chance to work hands on with our special needs kids…because we knew once we did they’d become more accepted in our schools… and it just promotes inclusion and respect. Our world just needs more respect."
Inside the Spanish classroom Friday, dozens of regular education and special education students were buzzing with delight as they greeted each other and gathered their supplies to make Valentines.
“We do this for them,” eighth grader Emily Garcia said.
"Not only for us, but it’s for them so we can build a friendship, so they know we’ve got it, we’ve got their back. We can be there for them,” Garcia’s friend, Victoria Freeman, added.
Almost every student sported their ‘Polar Plunge 2019’ t-shirt, excited to jump in the ocean for a good cause with their buddies.
"It's just so fun. There's no frowns on faces. Everyone's ready to do something and it's just really fun,” Savana Robledo and Ella Grace Cagle said of the Unified Buddies Club. “We all look forward to it in the year. Like raising all that money to help for the Special Olympics and then going to the Special Olympics,” Cagle continued.
The students meet monthly. Ruggieri said they do arts and crafts, play board games or practice for the upcoming Special Olympics.
“It makes our day. Because they like recognize us and want to be with us and its just amazing,” Robledo said.
“It makes you feel like you’re like important. It’s like you’re part of their life so you’re special to them… so that makes you feel good about yourself,” Cagle said.
“It gives my students a sense of belonging. It gives them a chance to be out in an environment and not have people look at them in a strange way. They have friends, they give high fives, they run up and hug, they’re excited about getting to do things,” special needs teacher Laurie Ritter said of her kids.
It was nothing but smiles and laughter in the room. The Special Olympics will be in April.