Fourteen years ago, Ross Weaver and Bernie Potvin decided they wanted to host a polar dip to raise money for various charities. Cutting a hole in a Discovery Ridge lake using an ax, their first plunge raised roughly $5,000 and involved a small group of people.
A decade later and the Calgary Ice Breaker Polar Dip Fundraiser is now an annual event and Weaver and Potvin have become co-founders of a local nonprofit Old Guys in Action.
Held at the Mahogany Beach Club, the dip focuses on raising money for the SA Foundation, an organization working to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
“It’s just a great organization for a really important cause,” Weaver said.
Every year, dipsters dress in creative costumes and take the icy plunge to help garner awareness and donations for the SA Foundation’s cause.
Jill Plett, dip director, said the event helps draw the community together and build connections.
“I love seeing my amazing neighbors come out and do this wonderful thing. They either participate in the dip or they volunteer,” Plett said. “I just feel like it draws the community together for a really beautiful cause, which doesn’t always happen.”
Confronting the issue
In 1989, the Servants Anonymous Society, now known as RESET, began its work supporting women and their children who were victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Over the course of six years, the SAS consistently maintained a 70 per cent success rate, and in 1995 the SAS founder started a separate organization — the SA Foundation — as a way to train others in replicating the SA recovery model.
The SA Foundation now operates in eight countries and serves over 6,200 women and 2,000 children.
The Foundation’s website says the average age a girl enters the sex trade is 13-years-old, with the industry of human trafficking and sexual exploitation generating $100 billion annually.
In Canada, between 2011 and 2021, police reported 3,500 incidents of human trafficking, with 96 per cent of victims being women and girls, and roughly 24 per cent of those victims being under 18.
The SA Foundation works to address the issue in five main areas: refuge, restore, reintegrate, rewritten and replicate. The seven-year program aims to provide women and their children with housing, recovery programs and employment and skills training with the goal of helping them rewrite their lives and reintegrate into society.
An SA Foundation staff member, who asked not to be named in alignment with the Foundation’s anonymity policy, said removal from a dangerous situation “isn’t enough.”
“It is important that the SA Foundation exists because we see her, we know that she’s there, and we know that rescue isn’t enough,” she said. “That she needs to actually become whole again, that she actually needs to receive recovery, love, that she needs the tools to be able to be independent.”
Making a splash
Inga Brazauskaite and Megan Dubinsky have participated in the dip for the last two years, and said their entire dental office got involved when Potvin, one of their patients, encouraged them to attend.
“Ever since he’s gotten us in, we’re hooked,” Brazauskaite said.
Dubinsky adds that the opportunity to support and engage with the community also keeps them coming back.
“I just think it’s really great for the community,” Dubinsky said, adding that their office often strives to donate, aiming to be a part of something “bigger.”
Ward 12 Councillor, Evan Spencer, has volunteered in organizing the event in the past and has also participated as a dipster. This time, however, Spencer acted as the Dip’s MC and said he enjoys speaking to the passion of everyone involved.
“Here you have the collision of community and an amazing cause, so it has the added benefit,” Spencer said. “It also becomes this place where relationships are built, where the community comes together. When you do something bigger together, it’s amazing what happens to relationships between people.”
This year, the dip raised $108,104, all of which goes wherever the foundation needs it most to support the women in its programs.”
The SA Foundation staff member said because she engages with the program’s women she knows “how life-changing this money is.”
“I know how big of an impact that this money will make in the life of women and their kids.”
The idea of jumping into freezing cold water turns most people away, but Plett encourages those who are hesitant to ask themselves, “can I handle 10 seconds of extreme discomfort to help someone who’s going through unimaginable, just horrific things that they’re having to go through?”
“A lot of times when I say that to people, they’re like, ‘Yeah, I could do it.’”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated from its original version to correct the amount of money raised and clarify information about the event.