Chilling for a Cause: An SMCS First

What would you be willing to brave the bitter winter cold for? 

It is a question that a handful of St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) students and teachers had to consider before committing.

The challenge involved entering the icy waters of Lake Ontario at Woodbine Beach on Saturday, November 30, 2019, just after 10 a.m. --- in only a swimsuit.

A SMCS team of eight students and one teacher participated in the BrainFreeze national polar bear dip fundraiser for youth mental wellness, on November 30, 2019 at Woodbine Beach.

The elements? Minus 3 degrees Celsius with blustery winds and a biting wind chill. The lake water temperature hovered around a frosty 3 C.

What would make eight teenage boys and one teacher decide to willingly take the plunge?

“This initiative was a true ‘eye-opener’, as it made my team and I truly notice how many young people are willing to fundraise and participate to support youth mental health,” says Luca Bernardini, a Grade 12 student at SMCS and one of the participants in BrainFreeze.

“This was my first time raising money for a cause that wasn't directly helping me (for example, raising money for my hockey team),” says Thomas Glionna, a fellow Grade 12 student. “This event gave me a new sense of community that I never knew existed. Seeing how many people there who were willing to jump into freezing water to spread awareness about youth issues really makes me feel like there is always someone who is willing to talk to you if you need help.”


“It was important to participate in this event because youth mental health is an issue that needs to be addressed,” says Jacob Reynolds, also in Grade 12. “If students all have the chance to speak about their struggles, then the battle against mental health could be easily won. As a student who is facing some big choices this year, the best way to release my stress is to talk about it.”  
BrainFreeze 2019 involved 95 teams from six cities across Canada, including the Double Blue Polar Bears of SMCS. 

The event was organized by Jack.org --- described as, “Canada's only charity training and empowering young leaders to revolutionize mental health in every province and territory.” The SMCS contingent, including all but one member of the Wellness Team, finished eighth overall raising more than $3,200 for Jack.org’s youth mental health programmes.

“I thought a teacher should go in the water with the boys,” says Elizabeth Brooks, English teacher at SMCS.
“I am a water lover and an avid swimmer so it seemed natural to participate. It was cold,” she says, adding the experience was a first for her.


“It seemed a perfect fit for our energetic team,” says Norah Higgins-Burnham, Guidance Counsellor and moderator of the SMCS Wellness Team. “Jumping into the freezing waters of Lake Ontario would effectively illustrate the commitment of the team to raise awareness and to help to dismantle the barriers that exist for teens to get help if they are struggling with their mental health issues.” 

“The team mandate this year was that we would participate in some greater community activities that promote positive teen mental health throughout the year,” she says. 

Bernardini adds, “the event serves as motivation for the Wellness Team, as we continue to move forward with our impactful initiatives to help a cause that, within our generation, has become a focal point of health-related issues.” 


“I am not a member of the Wellness Team, however I decided to participate in the event because I saw my friend was doing it, and it looked like a great opportunity to give back as well as do something I have never done before,” says Reynolds.

“I was so proud of the boys,” says Brooks. “They learned more about an important organization, came together in their fundraising efforts and although they found the event very challenging on the day-of, none of them dropped out. In fact, they insisted we all go fully underwater.”