Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

March 8, 2013

Local teenager freezes for a heartwarming cause

By Lindsay Eckert
Tribune lifestyle editor

Kokomo — India Piel turned her computer on with a melodic ding and crunched numbers from months worth of fundraising.

But Piel is not an executive. In fact, she’s barely even a teenager.

Piel is a 13-year-old honor roll student who has made it her mission to do good for others.

Piel doesn’t cut corners, doesn’t take short cuts, and if her dog ate her homework, she wouldn’t use it as an excuse.

Instead, she would see it as a chance to improve her work and care for the guilty dog.

That’s the kind of human heart Piel has. And it beats to raise money for Special Olympics — $5,057 worth of money just this year.

While other kids may fantasize what they’d do with those dollars, Piel only sees dollar signs as a means to help provide happiness to Special Olympics athletes like her brother and cousin.

“My brother and cousin weren’t able to play basketball for Special Olympics one year because [the organization] didn’t have enough money,” Piel, who is a middle school cheerleader, said. “I never wanted to see them that sad again so I decided to help raise money.”

Four years from the day she decided to make a difference, Piel has made more than $10,000 for Special Olympics. The shocking twist is that Piel doesn’t just hand a check over to the organization. She volunteers to plunge into frigid waters at the organization’s annual Polar Plunge fundraiser.

Although Piel has plunged in costumes ranging from a Super Plunger to this year’s hot dog costume, it’s the look of leadership Piel wears in her heart that has made her a major success in Special Olympics fundraising efforts.

“I guess I would say I care for others more than I do for myself,” Piel said. “I don’t like to think of myself first. I like to think of my family first.”

Piel’s passion to put others first has earned her a top spot in fundraising in Indiana.

Piel placed third in fundraising for Special Olympics Indiana this year. And she became the state’s youngest Super Plunger — a title reserved for people who raise at least $4,000.

“It’s really amazing; I just can’t believe I’m raising this much money for something that’s great like Special Olympics,” Piel said, her voice echoing with modest pride. “It makes me feel really happy to know people are willing to donate for a good cause. Kokomo is a small town and everyone knows each other, so it’s nice they all want to help each other.”

Piel made the icy plunge into a pond in Kokomo last month for Special Olympics, but as a Super Plunger, Piel also got the chance to plunge in Indianapolis. But she said helping the organization and people she loves is better than plunging in freezing waves — although she admits that it’s a “fun rush.”

Piel said she thinks she’ll grow up to remember her accomplishments as something that helped her grow into a caring and compassionate adult.

“[When I look back at what I’m doing now,] I’ll think I was doing a good thing,” the teen said. “I’ll think it helped me understand people better, and it helped me understand the importance to be nice to people and not be selfish and not take credit for things. I’ll be proud that I wasn’t thinking about the money, but that I was thinking about what I was raising the money for.”