By Evangel Fung
Recently, New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey garnered attention by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for human trafficking. We were blessed to have one of our own supporters do the same. One year ago, an unknown Mets fan and native New Yorker dedicated his Mount Kilimanjaro climb to raise money and awareness for Restore NYC. We are thankful for the passion of both of these modern-day abolitionists.
Jae Kim was first introduced to Restore when he attended our annual New Year’s Eve benefit in 2010. He continued hearing more about the nonprofit from friends who were involved and was struck by their passion. Then he got his hands on a copy of this year’s annual report. “The one thing I remembered was the fact that there’s more slavery today than there was during the slave trade. That’s ridiculous to me.”
Last year, Jae found his opportunity to join Restore’s mission when he began pursuing his longtime dream of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, which lies on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. At 19,000 feet, it is the highest mountain in Africa. Climbing it requires months of rigorous training. A couple months before he was scheduled to take on the arduous climb, it became clear that Jae wasn’t physically ready. “I was talking about it with my co-workers, and one guy said flat out, ‘I bet you can’t do it.’” In that moment, Jae rose to the challenge. “Sure, let’s bet,” he replied.
Other people expressed interest in the bet and a wager was born. Soon, Jae’s co-workers decided to raise the money for charity, and Jae was touched by their enthusiasm. “I thought it was a great idea. Once we got the charity idea going, it just kind of snow-balled, and everybody wanted to chip in a few bucks here and there. Part of it was just to see me fail, but at the same time, it was really great that people wanted to donate.”
On January 8th, 2011, Jae began the six-day hike with three friends. The hike grew more difficult on the third day and the altitude began to affect their climb. On the fourth day, they reached the base camp below the summit around 4:00pm and went to sleep right away. Hours later, at midnight, they began the climb to the top, hoping to reach the peak by sunrise. “There were times along that route when I just was ready to give up,” Jae said. “We saw people coming down the mountain, people who couldn’t make it up all the way. It was really disheartening to see that. They made it all this way, and if they couldn’t make it, maybe I can’t make it either. Thoughts start coming into your head.”
On the morning of January 12th, the group made it to Stella Point, where the steep slope ends and the hike becomes gentler and rockier. There, they stopped to rest and made their decision: “We came all this way; let’s just go to the top, no matter how hard it is.” They took off again. Everyone else was really beat, so Jae went up ahead, running to reach the top. “I don’t even remember the last 50 yards. All I remember is feeling an overwhelming sense of relief and joy when I saw the end up ahead. It was awesome. It was absolutely gorgeous.” Jae took his first picture, and then let himself fall to the ground. He lay on the ground and rested while waiting for his companions.
When Jae returned home, he emailed his co-workers and attached his picture at the top with the caption, “I did it!” Some teased him and claimed the picture was photoshopped, but everyone put up the money. Jae and his co-workers raised $3,000 total to share evenly between Restore and another charity, City Harvest. When a $1,500 check landed in the hands of Executive Director Faith Huckel, she knew she had to find Jae and hear his story.
“I was struck by his creativity,” said Faith. “He used something he was already doing in his life and found a way to loop in a social good. And for the average person who thinks, ‘I don’t have a lot to give, and I’m not really all that involved,’ his story was a way to show that there are so many ways that people can do good. There are so many ways people can get involved, and they may not even know it.”
Jas has participated in many company walks and runs and frequently gives to charities. But this is the first time he has ever organized something himself. “It just seemed very straightforward and obvious.” Jae was able to share about Restore with his co-workers, many of whom hadn’t heard of the organization. According to Faith, “That is infectious philanthropy, when we’re drawing in our communities into something we do. It’s about how you look at your life, and whether you’re doing ordinary things or extraordinary things, like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, there are ways to do good in our daily lives.” Restore’s donor base comes from a strong grassroots network of friends and family, many of whom are doing more and more to tie service into their daily lives just like Jae.
Jae hasn’t planned any hikes for the near future, but he’s excited about finding more opportunities to combine his love for adventure and his desire to support worthy causes. “The key is that it was a nice, creative way to raise money and have some fun as well. For myself, it was an amazing experience just to climb Kilimanjaro period, and to be able to do something charitable on top of that was icing on the cake.”
If you are interested in dedicating an upcoming personal challenge to Restore, be sure to check out MyRestore at http://my.restorenyc.org/.