Polar Bears

Minnesota’s winter waters are no match for Rochester Toyota’s commitment to the Special Olympics
by Dan Nied
July/August 2015
Polar Bears
Belly Flop … Brrr!
Accessory Manager Jake Halloran (midair left) and Human Resources Manager Brian Schulz (midair right) paid no mind to the imminent pain of belly flopping into Foster Arend Lake to raise funds for the Special Olympics Minnesota.
Jen Murillo finally went under the water.

A few seconds later, her hair turned to ice.

But then again, that was kind of the point of the Polar Plunge, the Special Olympics Minnesota fundraiser Rochester Motor Cars has participated in for the last eight years.
 

Rushing to the Heat
Jen Murillo might look uncomfortable here, but a few minutes later she’d be at the warming tent with her Rochester Toyota teammates.

As the marketing manager for the dealer group—parent company of Rochester Toyota—Murillo has made the winter plunge into nearby Foster Arend Lake four times before. But the event on Feb. 14 marked the first time she dunked her head under the water.

“Before you even hit the water you start to feel it,” Murillo says. “It’s instant. The funny thing is you jump in with a smile. That goes away fast.”

Eventually the smile returned, but not until Murillo thawed out in the warming tent.
 
Jumping for a Cause

The group’s Polar Plunge involvement began when former Rochester Toyota employee Brandon Buckingham recruited his coworkers to join him. Buckingham’s son, Lincoln, was born with Down Syndrome.  

Since then, Rochester Motor Cars has become one of the area’s top contributors. This year, Special Olympics Minnesota asked the group to raise $10,000. The 22-person team began actively soliciting donations in January for the Valentine’s Day plunge.

Murillo spearheaded a social media and email campaign that helped raise $20,816 for the cause. “Once we started getting really close to $10,000, people bought into that excitement,” says Jake Halloran, accessory manager. “Once we surpassed $10,000 it was, ‘OK, who is going to help us hit $20,000?’”

New Media, Great Results

Murillo posted daily updates on the company’s Facebook page and sent mass emails to longtime customers and friends of the business.
 
She spiced up the emails and Facebook posts with memes urging donations (think of a photo of Forrest Gump running with white letters spelling “Donate, Forrest, Donate!” running across the bottom).

“People loved it,” says Brian Schulz, Human Resources manager. “Our customers have been really supportive of us. We do a lot in the community and the more successful we are the more we get great feedback.”

But all that fundraising meant that the group had to jump. And no matter how many times they’d done it before, it never gets comfortable.

So as some of her teammates belly flopped and some cannonballed and some just prayed for a quick ending, Murillo swore to fully submerge herself.

As her icy hair melted in the warming tent, Murillo finally shook the shock of the frigid water. She thought about Special Olympics Minnesota, and she thought about Lincoln.

“When you’re walking out there, you’re wondering what the heck you’re doing,” she says. “Then you think about what you’re doing it for. The most rewarding part is just knowing the impact our group made for this cause. I’m friends with Brandon, and I know his kids well. Lincoln should have all the opportunities everyone else has. One person can only do so much, but a bunch of people can do a whole lot more.”
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