Dean Michel and Jennifer Bacon, REALTORS® with Century 21 in Kawartha Lakes, never shy away from a challenge, especially when it comes to giving back to their community.
In May 2020, Dean and Jennifer launched their first annual Jump in the Lake Challenge – an initiative that saw participants jump into the frigid early-spring waters from their docks or local piers around the Kawartha Lakes.
What was initially supposed to be a fun way to raise money for their local food bank quickly blossomed into a community-wide event that raised $15,000 in 2020, and over $53,000 in 2021.
This is Dean and Jennifer’s Real Heart story.
A: Giving back to our community here in the Kawarthas is important to Jennifer and I. It’s a small but mighty community and we’ve lived and worked here for almost our entire lives. Over the years, we’ve always tried our best to donate money, time, or resources to local organizations in need of support.
The initial inspiration for the Jump in the Lake Challenge came from David Greenspan, a real estate coach here in Ontario. We met with David last spring during one of his workshops and he posed a challenge to us – find a unique and exciting way to inspire and motivate the people around you, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
When COVID-19 hit our community, we started to see the impact it was having on the charitable organizations in the area. One local food shelter, the Coboconk and Area Food Bank, needed help as more people began to rely on them for support. Their supplies had gotten low because fundraising initiatives had been put on hold.
One morning in April, I was standing on our Balsam Lake dock watching the chunks of ice slowly melt away. I remembered the advice David gave us about coming up with a creative way to inspire people, and that’s when it hit me. Standing on the dock in my jacket and my toque, I thought about jumping in the lake, and realized people may pay to see something like that!
I knew the water would be cold, but it would absolutely be worth it if I was able to raise some money for a good cause.
As REALTORS®, we use the Facebook Live platform to connect with our clients and anyone interested in the real estate market here in the Kawarthas, so I knew this would be the perfect platform to reach out to our community.
We went live one Friday morning in April and put out a challenge to our viewers. We let them know that if we could raise $500 for our local food bank, I would jump in the partially frozen lake. I put in the first $50 donation, and I have to say, I didn’t think much would come from my call to action.
Soon after the initial call, we upped the stakes. We said if we hit the $1,000 mark, Jennifer would jump in with me. To our surprise, by the end of the weekend we had raised over $3,000. The combination of supporting the food bank and the prospect of seeing Jennifer and I out of our comfort-zone, jumping in a nearly frozen lake, was clearly motivating our community members.
Word spread fast, especially through social media. We posted everything online, from updates, to recent donations, to the fluctuating temperature of the lake. By the time May 1 rolled around, we had raised $15,000 for the food bank, and Jennifer and I had completed our first Jump in the Lake Challenge. I can confirm that it was even colder than I had imagined!
A: There’s a big healthcare gap here in the Kawarthas. We have limited local healthcare centres and resources in our region, which is quite common across rural communities in Ontario.
Many of the people who live here, whether as full-time or seasonal residents, have to drive at least an hour to reach the nearest healthcare centre. It’s a problem here.
Our local Chamber of Commerce, which I’m a part of, began to discuss plans for building a local healthcare centre in the Kawarthas. That’s where the idea for the Coboconk Wellness Centre came from. The plan is for this centre to address all our healthcare needs, from emergency care, to physiotherapy, to dental care, and much more. The community has committed to raising $1 million, with the remainder of the funds coming from all levels of government.
Immediately, Jennifer and I knew we could leverage our 2021 Jump in the Lake Challenge to kick-off the fundraising efforts for the Coboconk Wellness Centre, all while rallying our community behind this important cause.
We pitched our idea to the Chamber of Commerce and they instantly loved it. Lucky for us, the community loved it even more.
Planning started in early March with a pledge for Jennifer and I to jump into Balsam Lake in May. But we soon realized that people didn’t want to stay on the sidelines this time. They wanted to take the plunge with us!
We wanted to make sure everyone could get involved safely, so instead of gathering in one location to enter the cold water together, we had participants jump in from their own waterfronts.
We created a Facebook group for everyone involved with the challenge. We soon had a thriving group of people sharing the amounts they had raised, how they were preparing for the jump, and lots of positive comments on how excited they were to partake in the challenge.
It was inspiring to see how these people, mostly complete strangers, were cheering each other on.
On May 1, 2021, over 35 people joined us to take the icy plunge from their own docks or from local piers. The ages ranged from 8 years old, all the way to 78 years old.
On the day of the jump, we asked everyone to film themselves and share it on the page. It was so great to see everyone having such a good time and supporting an important cause.
We received over 600 donations, which amounted to over $53,000 in total. It was one of the largest fundraisers our community ever had.
A: With news and excitement of our challenge expanding outside of our community, people from across Haliburton and the Kawarthas began reaching out to us. Brandon Nimigon, our broker at C21 Granite Realty Inc., fully backed our initiative.
Brandon was planning to join us for the jump and was motivating his own community in Haliburton to support the cause. We made a fun wager with Brandon to see who could raise the most money in the week leading up to the jump.
The loser of the wager had to stay in their respective lake for a whole minute. At this point, we were hitting the coldest period in the region and neither one of us wanted to lose.
The bet was fun, competitive, but most importantly, it energized us to push ourselves further in the eleventh hour of fundraising.
The community loved it as well. We each had our own group of supporters helping us reach more people and raise more money. The bet soon became a competition between Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton.
In the end, Brandon raised over $3,000, but Jennifer and I came out on top with over $5,000. Brandon, being the good sport he is, honoured the wager and stayed in the chilly waters of Haliburton Lake for an entire minute. He’s already challenged us to a rematch in 2022!
Our hope next year is to expand our Jump in the Lake Challenge to other areas of the province and inspire others to do something similar in their community.
In fact, we challenge OREA CEO Tim Hudak to join the 2022 Jump in the Lake Challenge. If Tim doesn’t have a lake or pool nearby, there’s plenty of room on our Balsam Lake dock!
A: Don’t make it about yourself. Don’t come up with a fundraising plan that’s self-serving.
For someone looking to get involved in their community, it’s important to find out what you are passionate about. What is the organization, service group, or club that you can support? Find a way to help them. No matter how big or small, no matter if it’s money or time, your support will always matter.
Leveraging the resources in your community is also key. Our local municipality caught wind of our second jump and began supporting our promotional efforts. Their communications department helped us with signage and online collateral to promote the event. They even made beach towels for us that we gave out to participants to use once they got out of the lake.
Always reach out to your local organizations. You never know what response you’ll get.
Dean and Jennifer are now planning next year’s Jump in the Lake Challenge. To learn more about this initiative and how you can get involved, please visit http://kawarthalakeside.com/challenge
If you’d like to donate directly to the Coboconk Wellness Centre, please visit https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/the-wellness-centre/
If you’d like to donate to the Coboconk Food Bank, please visit https://www.coboconkfoodbank.org/donate