Climbing with purpose: Gerecke, others raise money for Heart for Africa's Project Canaan

Sunday, May 22, 2011
Bethany Taylor and Kyle Gerecke will climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa with Summit 4 Hope to raise money for Heart for Africa's Project Canaan. (Laura Simon)

Cape Girardeau native Kyle Gereke will be taking on the tallest mountain in Africa for a great cause.

Gereke, along with his girlfriend Bethany Taylor and six other experienced climbers, will be reaching for the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

The climb is one of seven events happening June 25 as part of Summit 4 Hope, a fundraising event for Heart for Africa's Project Canaan.

While Gereke's team is climbing Kilimanjaro, seven other teams will take on Mount Baldy in Los Angeles, Mount Plymouth in Colorado, Mount Brasstown Bald in Georgia, Mount Mauna Kea in Hawaii, Mount Hope in Swaziland, Heart Mountain in Canada and either Mount Jade or Mount Yu in Taiwan.

Summit 4 Hope has a goal of $150,000 collectively between the eight teams to benefit Project Canaan in Swaziland.

Funds raised will help to build the El Roi Baby Home, which provides shelter for babies abandoned by their mothers in Swaziland. It will also help with the construction of the Kufundza Learning Center, which offers training in vocational skills, and the ISO Building that will provide an area to properly package and export goods raised on the farm on Project Canaan.

This is Heart for Africa's first Summit 4 Hope, and it was born from the mind of Robert Smucker, who will join Gereke in the Kilimanjaro climb.

"Robert has traveled with us as a trip volunteer for the last five summers," said Janine Maxwell, vice president of Heart for Africa. "Two years ago, he did a Kilimanjaro marathon and then climbed Mount Kilimanjaro."

Maxwell said Smucker sent out an email to friends and family asking for sponsorships for his climb and raised nearly $20,000 for Heart for Africa.

"Then he had a guy who said, 'You know what; I'll pay for your flight over there and back if you let me do it with you,'" Maxwell said.

Smucker and his companion sat down and decided they should have more people involved, and after talking to the other Heart for Africa organizations around the world, they created the Summit 4 Hope event.

"It's such a great testament to one man's vision who said, 'I'm just going to do this, and if I do it alone, so be it,'" Maxwell said. "And now we have eight teams climbing."

Maxwell said taking a step back and looking at the Summit 4 Hope project is inspiring.

"People from all over the world are joining together to help children who are in great need in a Third World country in Africa," she said. "It's a neat concept. We're trying to have four corporate sponsors for each local climb, and one global sponsor for the entire event."

Gereke said his team has a goal of $30,000, but hopes to exceed that.

"We're asking for corporate sponsorships and that sort of thing," he said. "Just from the couple of people I've talked to, they've raised about $8,000, and that's just two out of 25 [climbers].

"We're doing all sorts of events, and people can donate to any of the climbers. If people want to donate directly to any of them, they can do it on the website, too. Any way is good."

Gereke's connection with Project Canaan is not random. His mother, Sherri Gereke, has been in Swaziland since October working at Project Canaan.

"So she first put me in contact with the people with Heart for Africa that are organizing the event," Gerecke said.

Sherri Gereke has been involved in missionary work since Kyle was 8 years old, which was about the time he first fell in love with all things outdoor and active.

"I first picked up climbing at one of the Horizon workshops that SEMO did," he said. "I think I was 9 or 10; I believe it was the first rock climbing workshop they ever did."

Since then, he's expanded his tastes to scuba diving and other sports.

In early 2008, Gereke started his own guiding company, Eden Guides, and provides services all over the world. Taylor also works for the company.

"Mountaineering, white water rafting, rock climbing, scuba diving; that sort of thing," he said.

As far as benefit climbs go, this is Gereke's third trip up a mountain to help others.

"I've done two of them in the past," he said. "Those were with Big City Mountaineers, which is an organization that takes at-risk youth in urban areas on weeklong mentoring trips in the wilderness."

Gereke is glad that something he has such a passion for can be used to help others.

"I just thought that it's a good way that I can help Heart for Africa raise money."

For more information on donating to Summit 4 Hope, visit the Heart for Africa website, www.heartforafrica.org.

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