“Everyone showing up last year showed that we could move past it,” said Long Beach resident Josh Janov. “This is a way for people to come together and enjoy life.”
This year, the event also honored Connor Troy, a Long Beach “wish kid” who died last year after attending the Splash — and receiving his wish. Last year, Connor’s mother, Kerry Ann, told the crowd that his wish was to meet Kermit the Frog and the Muppets, so Make-A-Wish arranged a trip to Disney World for Connor and his family. She said that the trip was a life-changing experience for him.
As of Tuesday, the Polar Bears had raised $500,000 this year for the foundation. Though more donations are expected, that figure put the Polar Bears above a huge benchmark — $4 million raised in total, organizers said.
“Make-A-Wish is the best organization,” Bradley said. “All of the money goes to the children. We raise all of this money for the children, and they make sure it gets there. That’s why we choose to be with them.”
Pat Clemency, president and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York, said she is amazed at how Long Beach has not only kept the event alive, but made it thrive. “The community of Long Beach has inspired everyone from all parts of the tri-state area to come,” she said. “There’s 6,000 people in the water, 20,000 people total. It’s a remarkable undertaking that starts in very few communities.”
Clemency said that last year alone, the foundation granted 85 wishes thanks to the Polar Bear Splash. “For families, it says that you are not alone in this, there is a community supporting you and making those wishes possible,” she said.
Some “wish kids” attended Sunday’s Splash. Ten-year-old Masha Benitz has had a number of heart surgeries, and her wish was to take a Disney cruise. She came on stage to present the $3,000 she and her friends have raised for Make-A-Wish.
“What we see time and again is families come together and say, ‘We’ve had the experience of a wish, and it’s our time to pay it forward,’” Clemency said. “You see generations of wish families coming down here, and that’s a pretty remarkable thing.”