Freezin’ for a reason polar plunge will be in honor of Bridgewell’s Kelly J. Martin

From left, Mike Sonia, Sean Martin, and George Sonia take a dip in the water at Short Beach in Nahant ahead of the Freezin' for a Reason Polar Plunge, which will benefit the Kelly J. Martin Memorial Fund, on Jan. 1. (Spenser R. Hasak)

NAHANT — Hundreds of people will plunge into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean for a good reason.

This year’s Freezin’ for a Reason polar plunge on New Year’s Day will be in memory of Kelly J. Martin, Bridgewell’s president and CEO, who died in August after a five-month battle with lung cancer. Money raised through the event will go into a private fund and be distributed by Martin’s husband and daughters to enhance life skills in people with autism.

“We thought this was the best way to carry on her legacy and continue her passion and the work she was doing,” said Martin’s husband, Sean.

Her co-workers, Elaine White, director of housing at Bridgewell, and Rita McAteer, Bridgewell’s director of development and marketing, said Martin was instrumental in the rapid growth of Bridgewell from a small business to a $72-million social services organization.

Martin led Bridgewell through becoming one of the first agencies to develop day programs and services at home for people with autism over the past eight years.

Martin spent 35 years at Bridgewell working with people with autism.

“She was very passionate about getting them out in the workplace and really having a life,” said her daughter Kayla Johnson, 25, who will be running into the water to raise money with her two sisters Alissa and Paige.

The three sisters and their stepfather plan to find people who want to go to college or learn to cook and give them the money to do it.

“It will be used for any life skills programs that will further their independence.”

Freezin’ for a Reason started 12 years ago with just 13 people, said organizer George Sonia. It wasn’t until four years ago that it was turned into a fundraiser. Since then, more than $50,000 has been raised for various causes.

One year, the money was used to purchase a wheelchair-accessible golf cart; the next, it paid for the installation of a splash pad at a park for children with special needs in Lynn. Last New Year’s Day, hundreds plunged to raise money for a scholarship in memory of Michele Durgin, a Lynn school teacher and Item reporter who died in a fatal motor vehicle accident in 2017.

The event will begin at 10:30 a.m. New Year’s Day and participants will take the plunge at noon. To register for the event, call Sonia at 781-844-7424. The cost is $25 and includes a Freezin’ for a Reason T-shirt.

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