SWPD raising awareness, funds for Special Olympics

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Fri., Mar. 8, 2013
Triumphant Penguins cheer at the annual Penguin Plunge, which raises funds for local Special Olympics team across Connecticut. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

The South Windsor Police Department has been a long-time benefactor for the Special Olympics Connecticut. Their fundraisers, such at Cop on Top, Tip a Cop, Penguin Plunge, Law Enforcement Torch Run, and their newest event, the Haunted Torch Walk, are all local events that support the Special Olympics. For 2012 alone, the SWPD raised $45,000. For their work, the department was awarded by the Special Olympics Connecticut for their 2012 fundraising efforts on Thursday, Feb. 28.

The generous donations are all made possible by the hard work of Agent Ron Littell of the SWPD. Littell is the town coordinator for these fundraisers, is the police department's liaison to the Special Olympics Connecticut, and is on the Law Enforcement Torch Run Committee. As the fundraising coordinator, it is up to him to make the arrangements with businesses and community participants that make these events possible.

“It's a lot of legwork,” he said. For example, he will get food donations from Red Onion Restaurant or Maneeley's Catering, or port-a-potties lent from Environmental Services. “I make the contacts so that it doesn't cost the Special Olympics or whoever is holding the fundraiser any money.”

The SWPD's dedication to the Special Olympics stems from the department's participation in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, an international event where police departments across the world run to raise awareness and raise funds for the Special Olympics.

While certainly goal-driven, Littell will be happy with any amount these fundraisers achieve. “Every dollar we raise is a dollar they didn't have,” he said.

Last year around Halloween, they held the first annual Haunted Torch Walk at Nevers Road Park. Through the course of the one-day event, 1,000 people attended, raising more than $6,000.

While they have monetary goals, these events are just as much about building awareness. “Last year, I told my people at the gate, 'Look, if a family comes and they don't have the money to go through, just let them go through,'” he said. “It's about building awareness.”

Littell's efforts are innovative on a state-wide level. After attending a conference, he learned about a program that police departments in Hawaii were using to raise funds for the Special Olympics – a program called Cop on Top. “Our town was actually the first in the state to do Cop on Top,” he said. For this fundraiser, an officer will set a monetary goal, such as $5,000 or $10,000, and will camp out on top of a building until he reaches that level of donations. Littell remembers doing this himself for the first time at Evergreen Walk. He was there Friday, Saturday and Sunday. One year, he got rain. “If you're going to tell people you're going to stay on a roof, stay on a roof,” he said.

Another event is the Tip a Cop. Police officers will wait on tables at the Red Onion Restaurant on Sullivan Avenue, and all the tips they receive go to the Special Olympics. Last year, they raised $7,000.

They are currently preparing for one of their biggest events, the Penguin Plunge, which will take place Saturday, March 23, at Crystal Lake in Ellington. At noon, a group of brave “Penguins” will jump into the water. To jump, each penguin must raise $75. Last year, the event raised a total of $35,000 for the Special Olympics.

While Littell said that last year's event saw comparably balmy weather at 50 degrees, most years, the Crystal Lake Fire Department has to cut ice to give participants some water to plunge into.

Even though he has become well known as the coordinator of this event, Littell insists that the event takes a community to accomplish. “It's a team effort,” he said. “I still need sponsors, I still need people jumping in the water. It all has to come together.”

To learn how to get involved with the Penguin Plunge, contact Littell at ronald.littell@southwindsor.org.

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