A Chilly Challenge for a Cause!

Recently we were so impressed by John Bernhelm of San Francisco, when he dove into the Pacific Ocean to help raise money for Saving Mothers with the Cold Water Challenge — a charity challenge shared over social media. We asked John a bit about his experience, and why he chose to support Saving Mothers and maternal health.

Q: How did you hear about the Cold Water Challenge? Were you called out by a friend before participating?

A: A few of my friends and family from back East posted Cold Water Challenges on Facebook early this summer. I didn’t think much of it then, because I figured it seems like a better idea when it’s a steamy 95°F outside, and I was dubious of the value of positive social network peer pressure. That changed when my uncle posted a video of his son drenching him with a cooler full of ice water and then challenged me to do the same. The basic idea is that if someone doesn’t feel up to the challenge, they should donate to the charitable organization of the challenger’s choice. I liked the other option - suffer a bit of cold and good-natured public humility while getting the ball back in your court to name a different organization and challenge others. I felt the “standard” rules of giving the challenged a small 24 hour response window and giving less to your chosen organization upon performing the challenge kind of lame, so I changed things up a bit. Also, California is suffering a severe drought, so why not use the cold waters of the Pacific instead of wasting valuable potable H2O?

Q: Why did you choose to support Saving Mothers?

A: I came across Saving Mothers back in 2010 when I was looking for an out-of-the-box Mother’s Day gift. A good friend had posted about the organization on facebook - there’s that social media at work again - and I knew my mom would rather have a donation to a great cause in her name than another Amazon gift certificate. Since the day I ended up doing the Cold Water Challenge happened to be my mother’s birthday, I thought I’d make another gift in thanks of the love and care she has provided all of my life and for the healthcare support we have been fortunate to receive living in a developed country. Also, I planned to call her out in the challenge, so maybe choosing Saving Mothers was the spoonful of sugar to help the icy water go down.

Q: Why do you think maternal health an important global issue?

A: Maternal health speaks to the very base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for the entire society. A mother’s health is necessary for her and her family to survive, thrive, and aspire to self-actualization. I believe that the physical and social stresses caused by maternal complications stand in the way of fighting poverty, hunger, and violence the world over. A healthy beginning and a strong family gives a child it’s best chance to grow, learn, and make a difference, regardless of where she or he may live. What’s more is that so many maternal health issues can be solved with proper training and access to the right resources! So I see Saving Mothers work at bringing those things to places that need them most a super important step, not only in saving mothers and children, but in saving the world!

Q: What do you take away from this experience?

A: A little cold water and light-hearted social-network-shaming never hurt anybody. I had fun with the cold water challenge, and though the whole idea is pretty silly, if a bunch of people learned about Saving Mothers, some made generous donations to a great cause, and at least one passed on the challenge to others, then it was totally worth dragging my roommate to the beach one chilly morning and getting a nice Pacific Ocean wakeup call.

Thanks so much for your support, John! 

Feeling inspired? Check out John’s video, and start a Cold Water Challenge of your own!


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  • Please send me an email, as to who Ican call, to contact , red info. on participating with your group. I am a retired CNM, living in the Sacramento area. Many thanks. Diane Tanner. midwife27@gmail.com