A group of swimmers wade into the ocean during the 18th Annual Atlantic Plunge at Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk on Saturday. The event raised more than $20,000 for Caring Unlimited. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

KENNEBUNK — Dozens of determined swimmers raced into chilly ocean waters on Saturday morning at Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk while participating in the 18th Annual Atlantic Plunge and helping to raise money for a good cause.

More than 40 individuals braved the freezing waves to welcome 2019 and lend their support to Caring Unlimited, which is York County’s only domestic violence resource center. Each swimmer paid $25 to join the group of plungers and some also collected pledges from friends and family for their frosty endeavor.

According to Susan Giambalvo, Caring Unlimited executive director, the Atlantic Plunge is one of the organization’s major fundraisers each year and Saturday’s event raised more than $20,000, along with bringing awareness to programs and services offered by Caring Unlimited.

“We want to make sure people know we’re here and that domestic violence services are available and how to access them,” Giambalvo said.”Today’s event is all about having fun and bringing the community together.”

Caring Unlimited is based in Sanford and was launched in 1977. It works with the York County community to bring an end to domestic violence by providing support and safety planning services to individuals whose lives are affected by domestic violence and abuse.

Participants in the 18th Atlantic Plunge retreat from the ocean after braving the icy waters to raise money for Caring Unlimited’s domestic violence programs in York County on Saturday at Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

Giambalvo said that funds raised through the Atlantic Plunge allows Caring Unlimited to provide a bevy of vital services and resources for the community including a 24-Hour Hotline, Emergency Sheltering, Transitional Housing, Support and Education Groups, Legal Advocacy, School-Based Education and Advocacy, and Community Education and Training.

The Atlantic Plunge was started by Becky Wirtes in 2001 at Mother’s Beach in Kennebunk and she attended Saturday’s event, although watching from the shore while bundled up in the 33-degree weather.

“That first year we had seven participants and raised $2,000,” Wirtes said. “It’s gratifying to see how this has grown through the years and how much it helps others.”

Wirtes said she knows first-hand how the sting of the icy ocean water feels.

“I actually went in for 14 years of this event and it hurts,” she said. “But it hurts more to get beat up and it’s wonderful to see so many people out here trying to make a difference today.”

Diane Onacki of Scarborough was a plunger for the eighth time on Saturday and said that her participation has become a tradition associated with the new year.

“I love it,” Onacki said. “It’s a great way to start the new year. It’s freezing out there and you get a brain freeze, but it’s exhilarating.”

Onacki said she decided to participate because she knew someone who had experienced domestic violence and Caring Unlimited had helped them.

“They do such good work,” she said. “Running into the ocean is a small way for me to assist them in their mission.”

Another participant, Kerry Herlihy of Gorham, said she tries to do this every year when she can.

“It was really cold out there today,” Herlihy said. “But it’s kind of a rush. In my opinion, the worst part of all of this is that your feet are absolutely freezing.”

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: