A brave group of community members has smashed fundraising goals with weeks left in its effort to raise money for a nonprofit serving at-risk youth in Burlington and St. Albans, Vermont.
The Red Hot Chilly Dippers are friends who are taking daily dips into icy Lake Champlain throughout March to raise money and awareness for Spectrum Youth and Family Services.
“This is definitely worth getting wet for,” beamed Mark Redmond, Spectrum’s executive director, who waded into the 34-degree water of Lake Champlain Friday to thank the Chilly Dippers for their support.
Already, the group smashed its $10,000 goal and isn’t slowing down. As of Friday, the team had tallied more than $16,000 in donations for an event Spectrum calls the Sleep Out.
Spectrum is now expanding its reach to more young Vermonters.
“The need is definitely there in this community,” said Spectrum’s Stefanie Comstock, referring to a brand-new daytime drop-in center a half hour or so north of Burlington, in St. Albans.
Comstock said the center will be a safe place for support groups, to work on a resume or where staff can connect young people to mental health resources or other services in the area.
“For those that are homeless or have unstable housing, they’re wandering around — they have no place that they can just sit and be warm, so we want to provide that for them,” Comstock told NECN. “Or have a warm shower or do their laundry, or have a hot meal. And that’s why we’re here.”
Tian Berry of Burlington can attest to the good work of Spectrum.
“It was a really dark time in my life,” Berry recalled, referring to when she benefitted from the organization’s support a few years ago. “I didn’t believe in myself.”
Berry said in an interview with NECN Friday that, after a family crisis meant her home was sold, she was left couch-surfing and didn’t always know where she was going to spend the night.
“I was having a lot of challenges with my mental health, and Spectrum helped me access the services that I needed,” Berry remembered.
The nonprofit offered her critical transitional housing and meals, which Berry described as the first steps on a positive path.
“It’s not that I needed someone to do the work for me to get to where I am, it’s that I needed someone to believe that I could get to where I am,” Berry said.
After drying off from his frigid dip into the lake, Redmond said the new St. Albans facility and other offerings wouldn’t be possible without the kind of passionate care from the community the Chilly Dippers epitomize.
“I do believe the work we do saved lives,” Redmond said Friday. “I know it saves lives — I know it does.”
Berry said she is now working toward her bachelor’s degree and has a job in human services.
She’s raising thousands of dollars for Spectrum as a member of the Chilly Dippers, and said she is glad to get cold for the organization that kept her warm when she needed it most.
“I’d rather dip in a hot tub, but this is fun, too!” Berry said, smiling.
For more on the work of Spectrum, visit its website.