BELFAST — On a blustery Saturday morning with temperatures hovering around zero and winds whipping white caps on the bay, a group of hardy souls took a midwinter’s dip to raise money and awareness to support immigrant programs in the state.

Even by Maine standards, the polar dip Jan. 15 at the Belfast Boathouse was chilly affair, with 25-mile-an-hour winds making it feel like 18 below zero, and sea fog coming off the water.

Collin Brewster Cunning, center, rallies the troops before heading into the frigid waters Jan. 15. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Event organizer Collin Brewster Cunning said donations surpassed his original goal of $2,000, with the total as of Saturday topping $5,500. A second Sunday morning dip was planned for those not able to attend the one on Saturday, with slightly higher temperatures anticipated.

The original idea was to have people try to endure 15 minutes in the water, he said, but with the frigid conditions, any length of time was acceptable. Supporters on the shore waiting with towels and blankets counted off the minutes as Cunning, along with about 12 others, treaded water while singing what sounded like sea chanties.

Supporters cheer on polar plunge participants Jan. 15. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Cunning said winter in Maine can be tough, even if you are from the state. “But when you’re thousands of miles from everything you’ve ever known, having to start over,” he said, it can be overwhelming. 

Born and raised in Belfast, Cunning said he has traveled the world and is passionate about cultural diversity. He wanted to support programs that are helping Maine’s newest residents.

Participants in the fundraising polar plunge submerge themselves in the frigid waters near the Belfast Boathouse Jan. 15. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Since he was young, he said, he has taken a dip in the ocean as a “mental health thing,” which he said keeps him present. “I wanted to use it as a way of raising money for a cause that I’m passionate about.”

Many others in the community wanted to take part as well, he said, so the effort grew in size. “I would love to make this an annual thing, and for it to continue growing in size and scope,” Cunning said.

One polar plunge participant heads out of the water Jan. 15. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services, the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine (formerly United Somali Women of Maine) and the Capital Area New Mainers Project are three refugee relocation and support services chosen to receive donations collected by the event.

These programs aid immigrants in the resettlement process by providing housing, setting up language classes, educating them about local culture, providing winter clothing and connecting families to resources in their new communities.

Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Photo by Fran Gonzalez

This polar plunge participant warms up after soaking in frigid water Jan. 15 at the Belfast Boathouse. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Photo by Fran Gonzalez

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