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Nonprofit plans hike to fund children’s wishes

The way Make-A-Wish sees it, Trailblaze Challenge is more than a hike. It is more than a fundraiser. It’s “a life-changing endurance experience.”

“We are super excited about bringing Trailblaze Challenge to Alabama,” said Valerie Gerber, director of development and marketing for Alabama Make-A-Wish, which grants the desires of children with life-threatening illnesses in the state. Gerber brought the Trailblaze Challenge idea to Alabama after checking out a similar fundraising effort in North Carolina. “I was unsure what I was about to witness. I haven’t really considered myself to be an avid hiker or outdoorsman,” she said. But what she found was “the most authentic sense of community I have encountered in over ten years of working with nonprofits. I was immediately hooked.”

The Trailblaze Challenge invites hikers to take on 26.3 miles of the Pinhoti Trail in the Talladega National Forest, with their trek being sponsored by donors. Make-A-Wish aims for the hike to “mimic the journey Alabama wish kids go through and ultimately help Make-A-Wish Alabama grant wishes to the nearly 300 children waiting on a wish in the state.”

“Our chapter will grant about 135 wishes in 2017, but we have close to 300 children waiting to receive a wish,” Gerber said. “Our referrals continue to outpace our revenue, and we hope that the Trailblaze Challenge will help us bridge this funding gap. We want to grant more wishes to Alabama children and get people out on the beautiful trails in our state.”

In North Alabama, 135 wishes have been granted since Sept 2012. Ninety-five children – including three in Franklin County – are on the waiting list to have their wishes granted.

The hike will provide participants “an opportunity for adventure, fun and fitness while making a direct impact on the lives of local children battling life-threatening illnesses,” a press release explains. “This is a hike, not a race, and caters to all fitness levels, from novice to advanced outdoor enthusiasts.”

Gerber said Make-A-Wish hopes to reach out to Alabama’s strong established hiking community, those who want to make a difference, and also introduce new people to hiking.

For 14 weeks, hikers will train with and work alongside Make-A-Wish staff and experienced hike leaders to prepare for their journey in both training and fundraising. Hikers will receive a personal training schedule that includes bi-weekly group training hikes, as well as instruction on footwear and hiking gear from seasoned professionals. Make-A-Wish staff will make sure that hikers have every tool available to make them successful on and off the trail.

The main event is set for May 19-21, beginning with a pasta party the Friday night before Saturday’s hike. “We want everyone to get enough carbs to hike 26.3 miles the next day, Gerber said. Breakfast the next morning will commence at in the 3 a.m. hour, and then hikers will begin the trek – along a route with fully supported aide stations along the way, every eight miles or so. “That will really allow our hikers not to have to carry so much in their packs,” Gerber said. The weekend will include dinner Saturday night and a celebration breakfast Sunday.

Info meetings are being held in various locations throughout the state, with the closest set in Huntsville in late January. A webinar option is also available for those who can’t make an in-person meeting. Interested participants can RSVP to a meeting at alabamatrailblaze.org. For more information contact Gerber at vgerber@alabama.wish.org or 205-440-1932.

Make-A-Wish® Alabama was incorporated in the State of Alabama in 1987 to serve the children and families of Alabama. Make-A-Wish Alabama is one of 61 federated chapters of Make-A-Wish America, but its mission is carried out on the local level, with local funding benefiting local children. Fundraising efforts, fiscal practices, and business operations all are designed to support a single purpose: to grant wishes that change lives. About 83 percent of funding goes toward granting wishes; 15 percent goes toward fundraising; and 2 percent is dedicated to general and administrative costs, according to Make-A-Wish’s website.

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