Junior Swimmer Planning Plunge for Charity
When Eastchester community members find themselves shivering in the Long Island Sound next month, they should remember that they have Matt Bellach to thank.
On Nov. 12, scores of Eagles will join Bellach in braving the chilly mid-autumn waters when they take part in the 2022 Polar Plunge at the Westchester Country Club Beach Club. But for the Eastchester High School junior, a cold swim is a small price to pay for a community-building event that will raise thousands of dollars for the Special Olympics and Eastchester’s Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA).
Bellach, a member of Eastchester’s Varsity Swim team, was instrumental in organizing a team for last year’s Polar Plunge, a fundraising event hosted by the Special Olympics. Bellach said he had a simple goal in mind when setting out on this course last year but that this year, he's dreaming bigger.
“The major thing is that I really like working with kids who have special needs and I believe that it’s important to give them as fair of a shot as anyone else,” said Bellach. “Last year, we just thought it would be the swim team, but then the Little League and the rest of the community got involved and it was a great experience all around.”
In total, the group raised $5,800 last year—which was shared evenly between the Special Olympics and SEPTA—but Bellach said Eastchester plungers are setting their sights higher this year and have been signing participants and donors up since last April.
“We got over 50 people at that first signup and it’s great to know that people wanted to do this for a good cause,” said Bellach.”
Athletics can be an effective way to bridge gaps between community members, Bellach said. And Eastchester’s outpouring of support for Special Olympics programs and SEPTA-affiliated Unified Sports teams shows that the town has its heart in the right place. Eastchester High School fielded its first Unified Basketball team last spring and plans to launch a Unified Bowling team this year.
“When people ask where the money’s going and you say it’s going to Special Olympics or to help kids with special needs learn how to play basketball, they really want to help,” he said. “That’s why so many people came out for our Unified home game last year; to see them cheering everyone on, it was a great experience and so heartwarming.”
Bellach said his experience with organizing the Polar Plunge and similar events—he also helped raise over $10,000 for the Special Olympics during a September Swim-a-thon—has caused him to consider a future career in Special Education.
“I could see myself working in a K-5 Special Education classroom,” he said. “And whatever school I’m in, I would probably help with service projects as well.”
As for this upcoming project, Bellach said he was looking forward to hitting the beach with the rest of the Eastchester community, regardless of the temperature.
“Last year, the weather was in the 60s, so we got lucky, but we don’t know what it’s going to be like this time,” he said. “Last year we went a little later in the day because he only had about 25 people, but now we have about 100.”