Local group climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro for a cause

Local group climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro for a cause

FAIRVIEW PARK, OH (WOIO) - A group of west siders is just back from their trek to the top of the tallest mountain in Africa. But it wasn't just for bragging rights, although they've earned them. It was to raise awareness for a new non-profit organization.

"We had already gone three days and 52 miles and we had so far still to go," said Phil Kerlin. 

Kerlin describes some pretty intense moments climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, all 19,341 feet. He's one of 15 people from Journey Community Church in Fairview who hiked six days, day and night, up Africa's tallest mountain. 

"There's one part, basically a wall, rocks jet out from the path, so you have to scoot around it and someone has to hold your hand, pull you over to the next rock," said Jim Wilkes, describing one of the more challenging moments.

"But we just kept pushing because we knew, at the end of that darkness there would be a sunrise," added Danielle Leonard, who also made the climb. "It was just an incredible moment, to be standing up on that summit when the sun rose."

The ultimate goal of this journey was not just about making it to the top, but about raising awareness and funds for a new non-profit, The Cleveland Hope Center

"Doing something few people have an opportunity to do, let alone even attempt to do, it's created such awareness, such momentum for what we are longing and hoping to do for our non-profit," said Kerlin.

The Hope Center will launch in January. The goal is to bring hope to those in need by providing some pretty practical things.

"Whether it's food or clothing or assistance with medical bills or rent, we all struggle in life, we all hit those rocky roads," said Wilkes.

Through the Kilimanjaro climb, the group raised over $30,000 for the center. They're interviewing directors right now and setting up offices.

"You go thinking that it's all about you and your personal challenge of getting to the top and all along the way, you're making memories and you're making an impact," said Kerlin.

Those memories are something they'll never forget. They are symbolic of what they now hope to accomplish back at home.

"It just takes one step at a time. It takes surrounding yourself with the right people, having a positive mental attitude and just believing I can get there, one step after another," said Kerlin.

The focus of the Cleveland Hope Center will be on single parents and widows, but they won't turn anyone away. They'll also partner with other non-profits in the Cleveland area to connect people with more specific services.

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