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When he was in the fifth grade, Kyle Gerecke and his family went on a four-week vacation, visiting almost every state west of Missouri and hitting up major national parks like Yellowstone.
That trip hooked him on nature and the outdoors.
Now, at age 20, he's helping to raise money so inner-city youths around the country will get to experience just a portion of that self-defining trip he got to take.
Gerecke saw a full-page advertisement in a magazine promoting mountain climbing for a good cause. The national program Summit for Someone organizes charity climbs with the money going to fund weeklong excursions for at-risk children. They have 24 mountains available to climb.
Gerecke chose Mount Shasta in Northern California. Mount Shasta's peak registers 14,162 feet above sea level. It's the second-tallest volcano in the country, coming just 248 feet short of Mount Rainier in Washington.
Backpacker magazine sponsors Summit for Someone and then donates the money to Big City Mountaineers. BCM takes urban teens on treks to provide them with mentoring and positive adult experiences.
"I personally thought that it was an awesome way for people to help the kids," Gerecke said. "The kids that are going to be getting the trips are like at-risk, urban kids. Kids who don't really get the chance to go outside a lot."
At first, all he thought about was climbing the mountain, he said. "Then I thought, you know, why not go for something that's a good cause."
Gerecke grew up in Cape Girardeau and graduated from Central High School in 2006. He has run and played and climbed trees all his life.
"We were kind of raised in the outdoors," he said. "I was outside pretty much 24-seven, even in the dark."
Gerecke jumps at anything adventurous or outdoorsy — hiking, biking, rappelling, rock climbing. Aside from some Colorado experiences, Gerecke hasn't been above 11,000 feet. He has been running and climbing stairs to train. Being in good physical condition cuts down on altitude sickness.
The not-for-profit Big City Mountaineers operates out of Denver. Its outdoor wilderness expeditions take teens from areas like Chicago, Boston and Miami and pair them with trained volunteers who lead the trips.
For every person who raises money and climbs with Summit for Someone, BCM can send five youth on a one-week excursion. Gerecke has pledged to raise $3,600.
Eventually, he would like to go through the training and become a mentor, leading the groups on trips. He said he isn't sure he can get enough time off from his construction job at Bruce Gerecke Construction.
"I really want to, but that's up in the air," Gerecke said.
His boss supports Gerecke's Summit for Someone project. His boss is also his father, and the main reason for Gerecke's outdoor passion.
"He's really supportive of my outdoor life because it was a really big passion of his when he was my age," Gerecke said.
Until he gets more vacation time, Gerecke said the climb will be enough.
"Though I don't directly work with the kids, being able to climb a mountain to raise money so they will get the chance is good enough," he said.
335-6611, extension 246
To donate to Gerecke's Summit for Someone
* Go to www.summitforsomeone.org
* Click "Donate" on the left of the page.
* Type Gerecke into the last name search
* Click "Go"
* Follow the prompts for the donation process