Mayor Daniel Rickenmann in the dunk tank (Photos by Caroline Evans/Carolina News and Reporter)

The sweet scents from Soda City’s food trucks filled the air as people wandered onto Boyd Plaza, curious about what the “Dunk the Mayor” signs meant. 

Lively pop music from a local DJ acted as background noise for the event workers’ instructions. “$5 for 3, $10 for 7, and $30 for an instant dunk” yelled the workers as people began approaching the ticket table. 

The first of two Sistercare Saturdays this month drew a crowd Sept. 16 at the Columbia Museum of Art’s plaza. The event featured a dunking booth, Jenga, cornhole, a prize wheel and freshly popped popcorn, all to benefit Sistercare.

Sistercare is a nonprofit that aims to serve victims of domestic violence and prevent future domestic violence incidents through community outreach. It has locations in five counties in the Midlands, and serves about 4,000 survivors and children each year, said Executive Director Leah Wicevic.

Wicevic has been working for Sistercare for 14 years and became director in June 2023. She was inspired to get involved after a family member experienced domestic violence firsthand.

“I was like, How could this happen?” Wicevic said. “How could this happen to her? We knew him. Everything seemed fine. And I just felt so guilty because we were close and I had no idea this was happening and it got me learning about domestic violence and than how domestic violence does not discriminate.”

And the rest was fate, she said. A position at Sistercare opened up, and she began her work with them.

There was a noticeable increase in domestic violence rates during COVID, according to a report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. Wicevic said Sistercare saw the effects of the increase.

“The crisis line calls that we got grew exponentially,” Wicevic said. “Many, many, many more crisis line calls were received at the height of that COVID pandemic.”

Sistercare was forced to close its shelters because of the health risks of communal living. It was able to provide private motel rooms for survivors and offer virtual counseling along with food and toiletry deliveries.

“We were able to never close down, never shut our doors,” Wicevic said. “And we continue providing those services because we saw firsthand just how much COVID impacted those victims of domestic violence.”

Sistercare relies on fundraisers, donations and sponsors to provide care to victims of domestic violence. So when the city reached out with the idea to partner for Sistercare Saturday, she said she was happy to participate.

Mayor Daniel Rickenmann sat in the dunking booth first on Saturday. It didn’t take long before he got the chance to abruptly cool off from the heat.

His  first splash came from Keniel Ruiz, the son of Richland County Sheriff’s Department deputy Kerwin Ruiz. The elementary school student said he felt happy to be the first one to hit the target.

Rickenmann chimed in: “Anything that we can do for such a great organization and a great cause is worth every dunk that happens.”

A few other Columbia public servants took a turn in the hot seat, including Trevon Fordham, the city’s new director of violent crime prevention, and Byron Gipson, the 5th circuit solicitor.

Their time in the water caused jealousy from some of the younger event attendees, who kept begging their parents to let them go in the water, too.

The next Sistercare Saturday will be on Boyd Plaza, too, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 23.

The city also will host the annual Mayor’s Walk Against Domestic Violence on Oct. 7. Walkers can register for free here.

Individuals suffering from domestic violence can reference resources here.

A Sistercare representative welcomes an event attendee.

A young girl plays with the cornhole bags.

Dr. Laura Rickenmann prepares to throw a ball to dunk her husband.