Towering 19,000+ feet over the African countryside, Mt. Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s most daunting peaks. For 26-year-old Jared King of New York City, climbing the mountain is a worthwhile challenge to undertake and represents the fulfillment of two longtime personal goals.
Kilimanjaro has always been on Jared’s bucket list. An avid outdoorsman, Jared has traveled the world as part of his involvement with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) – a program that teaches students environmental skills and leadership. Although he has traveled everywhere from Norway to Alaska, this will be the first world-class mountain that he has climbed.
Additionally, climbing Kilimanjaro represents the perfect opportunity to tie in his love of the outdoors to helping others. For September’s trip, Jared is raising money for the MDA Night of Hope gala in Atlanta – one dollar for every foot of the mountain.
Although he and his family are not personally affected by muscle disease, it is a cause that his father, Gerry, has been involved with for many years and his example has inspired Jared to continue the family legacy.
Inspired to Help
Since 2006 the Night of Hope gala has raised more than $7.3 million for ALS research. The black-tie event was founded by Holly and Palmer Proctor in honor of Holly’s father, Steve Ennis, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2005 and passed in 2012. Jared’s father, Gerry, has been involved with the gala for many years, so when Jared decided to raise money as part of his Kilimanjaro climb, MDA was a logical choice.
Jared remembers how his dad, the owner of a tile distributor business in the Atlanta area, was inspired to get involved with MDA and raising money for ALS research. “My dad was first exposed to ALS through one of his colleagues, Libby Patrick, whose brother was diagnosed with the disease around age 40,” says Jared. “Unfortunately, he passed away only a couple years after that.”
After making the decision to become an ALS advocate, Gerry would soon encounter another patient, Steve Dezember, an artist living with ALS who was best friends with one of Gerry’s employees. Meeting Steve left an indelible impact on Jared’s dad. “He eventually lost his ability to paint,” Jared says of Steve, “and to make his creations, his wife helped him. He had a blank canvas, and they put a solid color paint on the wheels of his wheelchair, went over the canvas in different ways, and created different paintings. My dad saw this and was deeply moved by it.”
Jared has also had the opportunity to connect with patients living with ALS, including Ed Tessaro, an Atlanta-area resident who shares a similar love for the outdoors. “I’ve had multiple conversations with Ed,” says Jared. “He’s done similar outdoor trips to what I’ve done, and he’s close with my father as well. I am inspired and honored that he is going to follow my progress on the trip.”
Combining Two Passions
Today, Jared is working in risk management in New York City, but he will soon begin helping his dad expand the family business in the New York area. As his career has progressed, Jared has long desired to have a cause to contribute to. Having seen his father’s dedication to MDA and how he’s helped raise money and awareness for ALS, Jared decided to adopt the cause himself. Kilimanjaro would provide the perfect opportunity to accomplish this.
After sharing his fundraising idea with MDA and the Night of Hope Gala, they were quickly on board. “I had the travel bug and wanted to do something challenging outdoors, like climbing Kilimanjaro,” says Jared. “It was an amazing opportunity to pair with MDA and the Night of Hope. My goal was to push myself physically and to push myself out of my comfort zone, which aligns with MDA’s goals and those of the Night of Hope.”
In his prior travels with NOLS, Jared has been exposed to the elements, although nothing quite like the grueling physical conditions of Kilimanjaro, one of the toughest mountains in the world and the highest on the African continent.
“It’s going to be a real physical challenge,” says Jared. “I’m trying to prepare myself physically and mentally. For anything, I’ve found that if you have the right attitude, you can push yourself in ways you didn’t know you could, or have ever done before. I see this attitude in those with ALS.”
Support from the Community
When Jared began his fundraising efforts for the September trip, he didn’t know the type of response he’d get. “I was worried and anxious about meeting my goal,” he remembers. The immediate support quickly put his fears to rest. “I am humbled by the amount of people who’ve reached out to me, from all parts of my life, and it really is a testament to how people want to help and get the word out. Raising awareness is really important. I think a lot of people don’t have [muscular dystrophy] on their radar, or that even ALS exists.”
Today, Jared has already met his original fundraising goal of $19,340 – $1 for every foot of Kilimanjaro – but instead of stopping there, he has vowed to keep going, and is looking to raise additional money before he sets out on his journey. His new goal is $30,000.
“With the exciting research around stem cells, I think that people genuinely do want to help, whether it’s giving $1, $5, $200,” says Jared. “I’ve gotten donations from people I don’t even know, or that I’m not really even close with. I only put [the fundraising page] up at the end of May, and I’ve gotten to this point, so it’s really a testament to people wanting to help out.”
Got an idea for a fundraiser like Jared’s? Whether it’s climbing a mountain or holding a bake sale, you can turn your good idea into an online fundraiser with MDA Your Way.