Leona is our Accounting Manager, and this month she is climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest summit in Africa. Leona is an amazing woman who loves navigating spreadsheets, gets to the root of issues without flinching, and brings in fresh vegetables for our staff during the summer months. When we go for staff walks to stretch our legs, Leona is usually several feet ahead of everyone else, at a fast pace, but always turning around to add to our conversations.
She grew up in Alaska, which was her home for 16 years. There she developed an encompassing love for raw, natural, wild beauty. There was no sudden moment when she realized that she loved being outdoors. Instead, it built over time with each hour that she spent in the wilds.
Currently, she lives in Colorado and works at our HopeChest headquarters.
“I first became aware of Children’s HopeChest 10 years ago, when the church I was attending started their partnership with HopeChest. I started sponsoring two children at Bhalekane CarePoint in Swaziland in 2007. I have long had an interest in Africa and learning about HopeChest’s Community-to-Community model, and its focus on community transformation resonated with my heart. My family and I first traveled to Swaziland in 2010. On that trip, we met Sdumo, a young man who was completing high school and who was involved at Bhalekane CarePoint. Sdumo’s personality and character immediately stood out to me. Since 2010, I have traveled to Swaziland two other times and have kept consistent contact with Sdumo, who subsequently completed the SLA program and has been a shepherd at Timbutini Well of Hope CarePoint. When I returned from my second trip to Swaziland in 2011, it was clear that a part of my heart stayed in Swaziland, yet my life was here in Colorado. I was considering how I could invest in Swaziland while living here. I became a volunteer with HopeChest in 2011 and an employee in 2012. I love working with this amazing team of people, both in the U.S. and abroad, to make a difference around the world.”
When Leona is not working, she can be found on the Colorado trails. For her, being in the forest on a hike can serve either as a time to be social with others who love nature, or as a time to find silence and solitude. For the past three years she has led hikes in Colorado, as one of the hike leaders for the group “Pikes Peak Adventurers.” She has also climbed most of the 14ers in Colorado and loves being on new trails.
It is amazing to hear Leona talk about her love for hiking. Her eyes light up and you can tell that even speaking about it sparks something in her heart. “I love the physical and emotional benefit that comes from consistent time on the trails.”
For most of Leona’s adult life, climbing Kilimanjaro has been a “life list” dream, but now she feels fortunate to be in a place in life where she can make this dream a reality. As a mother, she wrestled with the guilt of having a passion that took time away from being with her children. However, she realized that it is important to not only feed her passion for hiking and everything that it does for her wellbeing, but also to set an example for her children of being an individual as well as a parent. She is now following that passion to her next adventure in Tanzania.
“I am returning to Africa this year for a different type of experience. I will combine my love of hiking and my love of Africa to realize a long-time dream, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Two hiking partners and I will spend seven days on the mountain, from start to finish. I am thrilled to have this opportunity.”
So what does training for climbing Africa’s highest peak look like? Leona designed her own training routine to prepare for her climb. Staying active and healthy, as well as weekly, steep mountain runs are part of her training. When asked what she is most concerned about, the answer was acute mountain sickness, because there is no way to 100% prepare for that possibility. On average, only 66% of individuals who climb this 19,341 foot peak end up summiting, mostly due to altitude sickness.
Part of her preparation included participating in the Pikes Peak Ascent race in August, which consists of an elevation gain of 7,815 feet over 13.3 miles. The finish line is on the summit of Pikes Peak, at an elevation of 14,115 feet.
We are rooting for Leona and are so proud of how she is following her passion and challenging herself to climb to new heights. As Leona embarks on this exciting adventure, let’s support her in prayer for her safety and that God will be seen in the midst of exploration.
( If you also have a passion that defines you, consider using it to raise money for a meaningful cause! )