March 24, 2010

On a chilly, Saturday morning in mid-March, Muhlenberg County 4-H members jumped into the cold waters of Dogwood Lakes to raise money for a program that helps fight childhood hunger in their community.

The Penguin Plunge was the first event in a campaign 4-H Teen Council members started to raise money for the county’s Food For Kids Backpack Program after they learned the program would lose partial funding for the 2010-2011 school year.

The Backpack program provides food to children who may not otherwise have any during the weekend. A 4-H teen started the county’s program several years ago after he learned about it at a Kentucky 4-H Issues Conference, said Tommy Harrison, the county’s 4-H agent for youth development with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. While that teen has long graduated 4-H, the program has continued through his mother and other 4-H Teen members.

In Muhlenberg County, the program provides food to 350 children from all grade levels each weekend during the school year. To continue the program at the current level, the 4-H’ers need to raise $28,000 by August.

It was an effort Connor Cooper, the 4-H Teen Club president, was happy to lead along with 4-H adult volunteers Donna Harrell and Roger Travis.

“If the community can get together and raise money for relief efforts to foreign countries, why can’t we do something for our own kids?” Cooper said.

The Penguin Plunge was modeled after a local radio station’s Polar Bear Plunge. Greenville Pharmacy, Piper’s Saw Shop and Dogwood Lakes joined the 4-H Teen Club as event sponsors.

The 4-H’ers began raising money several months ago and promoted the event on local radio, television, billboards, newspapers and at school. The teens were able to get the county’s high school administration involved by holding a contest where students contributed money toward which administration member they would most like to see take the plunge.

Muhlenberg County High School Principal Matt Perkins and Assistant Principal Brad Devine both jumped into the water.

 “I’m honored to be a part of a very special program,” Perkins said. “These kids possess what I call quiet leadership. Their actions say a lot more than their words ever could.”

Through the Penguin Plunge, the 4-H’ers raised more than $10,000. They will continue to raise funds in the next several months.

Cooper said he hopes 4-H Teen Club members take the plunge again next year to raise funds for the program.