Mount Arlington, NJ _ Over 200 people are expected to take a “Leap” in the lake on Saturday, February 9, all for a good cause. The fourth annual Leap in the Lake, hosted by Lake Hopatcong Elks #782, benefits special needs children throughout the area.
The Leap is the brainchild of Rick Gathen, past state president and current member of Lodge #782. The lodge was in need of a money-making event; Gathen mentioned a “Polar Plunge” type event at Lake Hopatcong. The feedback was not good. Most people told him he was crazy. With that kind of response, he said laughing; he knew he had a good idea. “When people say you’re nuts, you know you’re on track,” he said. From the start, he knew the event had to be held at Hopatcong State Park.
Thirty-five brave souls signed up to leap the first year. But, despite the low number of leapers, the Elks raised a whopping $20,000. “You knew it was a hit,” said Gathen.
The second year the number of leapers doubled to about 70, and the event raised almost $35,000. The lake was frozen 16 inches thick that year, and it took an army of chain saw operators and backhoes to cut through and remove ice chunks to create a swimming hole large enough to accommodate the Leapers.
Last year the warm weather brought out the largest number of leapers to date, totaling 115. With no ice to break through, the leapers actually ran from the shoreline into the lake and back out again. The event raised $44,000.
Gathen said that the goal for this year’s leap is to break the $50,000 mark. “All indications are that we will be well north of $50,000,” said Gathen.
To boost participation, Gathen put out a challenge to area bars, daring them to put together teams to see who could raise the most money. Ken Insco, representing Team Castaways, is confident his team of eight will show up, maybe in costume, and represent the Hopatcong bar with honor. “They all said they’re in. I’m not sure about this guy though,” said Insco, pointing to a name on his list.
The goal of all Elks Lodges in New Jersey is to raise money to help special needs children. “The state major project is children with special needs. So when Leap in the Lake began it was a way to continue the state major project,” said Gathen.
With the money raised from last year’s event, 20 special needs children were able to attend the Elks Camp Moore in Haskel, NJ for a week this past summer. The camp is equipped to handle almost all the physical and emotional needs of each child, offering a highly trained staff and an on-site medical facility.
Some of the money raised is also being used to help special needs children in seven local school districts including Jefferson, Roxbury (Mount Arlington), Hopatcong, Dover, Stanhope/Netcong, Rockaway and Denville.
According to Shannon Psensky, Exalted Ruler of Elks #782, the goal is to be able to handle all requests for supplies and events from schools and teachers. For example, just recently, a group of 50 special needs children and their parent were treated to the show, Disney on Ice. In Rockaway, the athletes at Morris Hills High School are taking part in a Weight Lifting Challenger League, helping special needs kids in the weight room. A request was made for specific weight lifting equipment and the Lodge was happily able to accommodate.
Along with requests from special needs children and groups, Gathen said the Lodge has been getting requests from families with sick children. “Whenever we can help a family with a child in need we will help,” said Gathen. Most of the time, the Lodge will send a check for $1000 to help with medical costs.
“Without this Leap, we wouldn’t be able to do as much as we’re doing now,” said Gathen, who will be one of the 200 leapers at this year’s event. “Thirty seconds of being uncomfortable is nothing compared to a lifetime of what these kids have to go through,” he said. Gathen has made the leap every year since the start. “I go in every year. How could I not? Talk about peer pressure! How could I create the event and then not participate,” he said.
There are 40 Elks Lodge volunteers helping with this year’s event. There will be a group at the state park and to alleviate some of the congestion there, local police will be on hand to help with traffic control. And there will be a group at the Lodge, getting ready to accommodate some 250 guests at the after party. The menu will include many items like burgers, wings, sausage and peppers and turkey soup. And for dessert, what else but, ice cream.
For the first time, the Lodge is hosting a pre-Leap cocktail party on the Friday evening before the big event. Registered Leapers are invited to attend the event from 7:30-9:30 PM and registration is available that night.
Registration forms are available on line by going to the Lodge website at www.lakehopatcongelks.com/leap.