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Manasquan husband and wife attorneys host charity polar plunge, raising $1.2M

November 14, 2022
Contact: Abram Garcia
Director of Membership
Tel: 732-565-7560
[email protected]
NEW BRUNSWICK – As young family law attorneys and newlyweds in 2008, Joe and Jeanette Russell never envisioned themselves standing on a beach in mid-January, ready to leap into freezing cold water. 
Years later, after hosting 14 annual polar plunge challenges and raising $1.2 million for charity in the process, experience has taught them a simple trick for getting through the day. 
“Don’t worry about the water until you get to the beach. Then, it’s over before you know it,” said Joe, who along with his wife, is an NJSBA member. 
It helps that the couple is joined on the Manasquan shores by hundreds of participants clad in swimming gear, costumes and wetsuits, all guided to the ocean by a brigade of the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard, bagpipers and drummers. Some years the weather is mild. During others, the beach is covered with snow, and the whipping winds feel colder than the water itself. 

“What I always tell people, and it’s the truth, is that it’s invigorating. You don’t feel pain,” Jeanette said. 
Joe added: “Every year I always have at least a dozen friends who agree to donate but refuse to go in. Next thing you know they’re in the water.” 
What started as a modest event attended by 40 of their closest friends and family has since grown into a wildly successful fundraiser that brings in roughly $100,000 every plunge. Joe—a shareholder at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer—and Jeanette, an attorney with Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis, each credit the event’s longevity to the fun and communal atmosphere, coupled with the chance to donate to a noble cause. 
“It’s a great time and very simple to organize. People show up, jump in the ocean and get together at Leggetts [Sand Bar] afterwards,” Joe said. “Most people come back year after year and bring new people. So every year it grows.” 
The proceeds from the plunge benefit the LADACIN Network, a non-profit agency that provides a continuum of care—including educational, therapeutic, social, residential and support services—to people of all ages with physical and developmental disabilities. The agency serves over 3,500 individuals and their families and operates 14 facilities in Monmouth and Ocean counties.
Patricia Carlesimo, LADACIN’s executive director, said the polar plunge has become one of the local charity’s biggest windfalls through sponsorships and community support. 
“It’s a joyous event and every year it just gets better. It was minus 5 degrees last January and there was still a crowd,” Carlesimo said. “Though when Joe first suggested it, we probably all thought he was a little crazy. Jumping in the ocean in January?”
The feeling from his wife was mutual. 
“I’d like to tell you that I was the supportive wife, but when he had the idea, I think I looked at him and said, ‘What are you talking about?’” Jeanette said. 
The need to give back
The concept for the plunge was born in late 2008 around Christmas. The couple said they had planned to start a family, until Jeanette went for a sonagram and found out she had miscarried. While they struggled with the loss, an idea emerged.
“Joe felt this overwhelming need to do something to give back,” Jeanette said. “He came home one day and said ‘I have to do something good. I’m going to organize a plunge for LADACIN.’”
It was the first organization he thought of, given his family’s longtime support for LADACIN, Joe said. His older cousin, who’s now 54, has been a client for most of her life. For years the family attended fundraisers, dinners and golf outings. A polar plunge would be a worthy addition, he said. 
The Russells threw themselves into getting all the necessary permits from the fire and police departments, dive teams and EMS squads. With only a few weeks of preparation, the first plunge in 2009 raised about $25,000, Joe said.
“We threw the whole thing together in a month and were shocked at the number of people who showed up and how much money we raised,” he said. “It showed us that it might develop into something with the right support and planning.” 
Among the plunge’s many sponsors, the NJSBA has been a major factor in helping grow the event, the Russells said. 
“The Family Law Section with the state bar has been tremendously supportive. Many people donate and participate,” Jeanette said. “We have many attorneys who we’re friends with and attorneys who now put their own teams together.” 
Count NJSBA President-Elect Timothy F. McGoughran as a supporter. He heard about the plunge five years ago and has since recruited his office to participate as a team.
“Whenever I bring somebody new, they become part of the family coming back each year. Once you do it it’s very contagious and of course raising money for such a quality charity is rewarding,” McGoughran said. “Joe and Jeanette are very hard-working, successful and smart attorneys and they know how to give back.”

Contact: NJSBA Communications Department
Tel: 732-937-7527
Email: [email protected]


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