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Camp Capella ‘polar dip’ supporters set to take the leap on February 29

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DEDHAM - The 13th annual polar dip, to benefit children and adults with disabilities at Camp Capella, is set for leap day, February 29, when dozens of camp supporters plan to leap into a hole carved into the ice on Phillips Lake in Dedham. The event is sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Hampden.

Proceeds raised during Camp Capella’s polar dip allow children and adults with disabilities to enjoy a fun and exciting summer camp experience, regardless of their ability to pay, and it’s an event that keeps growing, according to camp executive director Harvey Chesley.

“For a number of years, this polar dip event raised about $10,000 to $12,000 each year,” Chesley said during an interview. “Last year, it took off and raised $15,000, and that’s also our goal for this year.”

Camp Capella is a lakeside summer camp at Phillips Lake that provides a fun and safe environment with a variety of recreational and educational opportunities for children and adults with disabilities.

According to Chesley, funds raised during the polar dip are earmarked for the camp’s assistance tuition fund. Since Camp Capella was first established in 1961, no camper has been turned away for an inability to pay tuition, he said.

“We know that raising a child can be a challenge, especially if the child has special needs,” said Chesley. “We ask for a registration fee and then ask families to pay what they can, but because of events like this, they don’t have to pay anything if they do not have the means.”

Camp Capella’s annual polar dip was started in 2008 by longtime camp supporter Joseph Dowling, who has continued to raise funds for the event each year. In addition to taking the plunge himself, Dowling is also responsible for carving the large rectangular hole in the ice situated near the camp. According to Dowling and Chesley, the ice in front of the camp was 14 inches thick as of February 12.

“Back in 2008, I was looking for a place to do a polar dip for Camp Sunshine (on Sebago Lake in Casco),” Dowling says. At that time, Camp Capella was being reactivated after two dark summers when the camp was forced to close because of budget issues.

Dowling says the camp’s new board of directors was very receptive to his idea, and for the next decade, the annual dip was a joint benefit for the camps. The annual fundraiser on Phillips Lake now solely benefits campers at Camp Capella.

Nobody will know exactly how many people plan to take the plunge during the polar dip until shortly before the event begins at noon on Saturday, February 29. 43 supporters had preregistered as of February 12, but that number is likely to increase considerably during registration, set to begin at 11 a.m., on the day of the dip, according to executive director Chesley.

“Even if we have 75 jumpers, it will be over in an hour, then you can get warm in the hot tub, supplied by Sandollar Spa and Pool in Brewer,” he said. “We’ll have donated pizzas, chowders and other hot food available. Even if you don’t think you can take the dip, we encourage people to come and support those who do and listen to some of the stories they’ll likely hear from our campers, many of whom will be there.”

One of this year’s Camp Capella polar dip participants says his decision to participate was partially inspired by a promised pledge from a coworker.

Ric Tyler of 103.9 FM WVOM’s “George Hale Ric Tyler Show” says Harvey Chesley’s recent appearance on the duo’s morning news and talk show inspired George Hale to pledge $100 if Tyler would make the leap.

“Harvey invited both of us to take part,” Tyler said. “Because George will be away for his month-long Florida sojourn, he pledged the money if I would do it. I agreed but only if our listeners could take the figure up to $1,000.” Money continued to come in during the segment.

As the radio hosts were speaking with Chesley for a live update last week, Al Belanger of TBA (Tires, Batteries & Accessories) on outer Hammond St. in Bangor, called with a sizable pledge that put the figure over $1,000, according to Tyler, who says a further challenge was issued.     

“Former State Senator and Penobscot County Commissioner, Andre Cushing, asked if I’d jump in twice if another $1,000 is raised,” he said. “Please don’t make me do it twice,” Tyler then admitted that he’ll do it if the money is raised.

“I’ll do this because every kid deserves the chance to have a summer camp opportunity,” Tyler said. “At Camp Capella, kids with disabilities get to have that experience, and the parents of those kids can get away for a little bit to recharge, knowing their kids are taken care of in a fun, loving environment, and are having one of the best experiences of their life. If you knew that your participation in this event guarantees that, why wouldn’t you want to do it?”

All parking for the event will be at the Lucerne Inn. Shuttle buses will take all supporters and polar dip participants to Camp Capella.

For more information, or to support Camp Capella’s upcoming polar dip, visit

Last modified on Wednesday, 19 February 2020 08:37


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