Meet Roseanne Sapula, mentor, fundraiser and Penguin Plunger
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Fri., Mar. 1, 2013
When Dan Rezende, the head coach of the South Windsor Special Olympics, invited Roseanne Sapula to Monday Night Social Club, she was hesitant. With her daughters off to college, she was looking to keep busy in her community, and was involved in the Boundless Playground project, where she met Rezende. But she was not sure she was a right fit for volunteering at MNSC, a weekly event that gives special young adults an opportunity to gather and socialize.
Out of respect to Rezende, she dropped by anyway. The experience defied her expectations. “Lo and behold, something happened,” said Sapula. “It's like when you fall in love, you can't explain it. It just happens.” She was deeply touched by how close the participants were, how friendly and supportive of each other they were. The families of the youths, too, were close-knit and supportive, and welcomed Sapula with open arms.
The program began more than 20 years ago, when the then-assistant director of the Recreation Department, Ray Favreau, began a regular play group for the young special population in town, called SWAG – South Windsor Adaptive Games. As the group of participants grew, so did the program, and it was renamed Monday Night Social Club. Today, many of the original participants are still regular faces on Monday nights.
Sapula decided to get involved. “Sometimes I think you just end up where you're supposed to be,” she said. She became a regular at MNSC, held at the Community Center, where volunteering is as easy as joining the party. Visitors can expect to play table hockey, shoot pool, dance, sing karaoke, and simply enjoy each other's company – and Sapula totally immersed herself. Her involvement extends well beyond Monday nights, such as taking members out to breakfast or lunch on their birthdays.
She is a fervent cheerleader/fundraiser for the program. “She just does a great job for us,” said Rezende. “I really rely on our volunteers to help us out, and she's our number-one gal.”
Sapula approached Rotarian John Samsel asking what the Rotary Club can do to help MNSC, and the annual Picnic in the Park, held at Nevers Road Park, was born. Sapula finds that this event draws in the entire community – the fire department has attended this event for several years, and last year, the police department came as well. “It brings people in – those who were standing outside looking in – and they're happy,” she said.
Many other organizations have helped MNSC, such as the South Windsor Junior Women's Club, which gave them a grant to make their own club shirts, and the Knights of Columbus, who provide funds for the Halloween dance – a much-anticipated affair at MNSC.
The MNSC was a springboard for Sapula to become involved in the South Windsor Special Olympics. The local team was founded in 1995 by Karen Phillips, who is still the group's main coordinator. Sapula assists head coach Rezende as the assistant track and field coach, helping athletes practice on Saturdays from April to June at the high school track. The team also does bowling during the winter season.
The fundraising event that energizes Sapula the most is the annual Penguin Plunge. At lakes and beaches across the state, brave “Penguins” will be “freezin' for a reason” every year, gathering donations from family and friends to support their local Special Olympics teams. They then top the fundraiser off with a plunge into chilly winter waters. This year, Sapula and supporters will be plunging into Crystal Lake in Ellington on Saturday, March 23.
Sapula is always touched by the many different people who come. “People's hearts are all in the same place no matter where they come from,” she said. “Friends, family, politicians, it just brings together people of every age... the generational gap doesn't exist when it's all for something special.”
Special Olympics athletes will come out to cheer on those Penguins who are plunging. “You get so much adrenaline pumping you forget it's freezing,” Sapula said.
Gail Paggioli is the mother of 28-year-old Ryan, a global messenger for Special Olympics Connecticut. He also participates in the South Windsor Special Olympics – his events are track and field and bowling – and is a regular at MNSC.
Gail Paggioli is extremely grateful that Ryan has MNSC in his life. “This fills a gap that was missing,” she said. “I really don't know what we'd do without the social club.” MNSC provides a network of support for parents as well as participants. “You form a relationship with the parents,” she said. “We try to help out the younger parents with their problems, and they try to help you out a little bit.”
“Roseanne really has been a blessing,” said Gail. “She's been our major grant getter, Penguin Plunger, and gets people involved.”
As for Ryan, he is also thankful that MNSC and the South Windsor Special Olympics, as well as Sapula, are in his life. “My life is really good,” he said. “I love Roseanne. She's a girl on fire.”
Sapula is also a mentor to Gabriela, a member of MNSC and the South Windsor Special Olympics. Since Gabriela was in fifth grade, the two meet once a week, and it has made all the difference. “I don't have the words. I can't tell you what a difference Roseanne has made in my daughter's life,” said Gabriela's mother, Nancy Bowen. “Roseanne has been an angel to us.”
According to Sapula, all that she gives does not compare to what she gets out of her work. “Seeing those smiles – you can't help but smile back,” she said.