By Sarah McKenzie
We all love being good Samaritans and fundraising for a worthy cause. Making a transformational difference to someone less fortunate than ourselves makes us feel good – but more importantly, it builds a brighter future for people who would otherwise struggle to lead a happy and fulfilled life. The kind of life that many of us take for granted.
In June this year, I interviewed Ray Sykes, an inspiring mountaineer who summitted Mera Peak (6476m) and Island Peak (6189m) and crossed the Amphu Laptsa Pass (5800m) in Nepal with his wife, Di. Why did Ray and Di embark on this adventure? To raise money for Stepping Stone House, a not-for-profit that provides a safe home and developmental programs for homeless young people aged 12 – 24 in Sydney.
Having worked closely with Jason Juretic, the CEO of Stepping Stone House, for over a year now, I have learnt the importance of fundraising from a business management perspective. Without fundraising drives and the generosity of sponsors, Stepping Stone House would cease to exist. But on the participation side, chatting with Ray really opened my eyes to the incredible possibilities of fundraising as a life experience.
Hopefully one day I will write an article about a personal trekking experience I have had while fundraising! For now, let me share Ray’s experience with you.
Making a transformational difference, dollar by dollar
To give you a bit of context, Ray is Senior Operational Risk Manager at Macquarie Bank, which has an annual fundraising rally where they will match any funds raised for charity dollar for dollar. Initiatives like this make a huge difference for small charities like Stepping Stone House and ensure their survival.
The vision behind Ray and Di’s 24-day trekking experience in Nepal was to raise much-needed funds to help Stepping Stone House continue their life-changing work for vulnerable young people. They raised $2500 in the end – so $5000, as the amount was matched dollar for dollar by Macquarie Bank.
“It was the hardest 10 days of my life”
During my interview with Ray, he admitted that the Nepal trek was “the hardest 10 days” of his life – yet also the most enriching.
“My wife and I always knew it was going to be physically tough. We’d been to Everest base camp in 2008, but had always wanted to go back while we’re still physically able,” he explained.
“The hardest thing for us was being in such remote areas. The road is well-travelled at Everest, but this time we were in a really remote valley, with 6 or 7 hours per day of walking at altitude.”
The remote region Ray and Di travelled through had basic accommodation with a dirt floor, rickety bed, no hot water and not much electricity. It was dark by 7pm, and they ate rice and noodles with a few vegies for dinner every night, for 14 or 15 days in a row.
What was the biggest challenge of mountaineering?
“The actual physicality of putting one foot in front of another was tough. At that altitude, it’s difficult even to go downhill, especially when you’re emotionally and mentally exhausted. Interestingly, we learned that people who die during mountaineering expeditions die on the way back down, not on the way up. It’s because the sense of exhilaration and adrenaline disappears.”
The need to support life-changing initiatives
At the heart of Ray and Di’s trekking expedition was their commitment to fundraising for Stepping Stone House. Ray believes passionately in Stepping Stone House’s unique learning model, which supports the growth and development of young people in the long-term.
“Stepping Stone House tackles issues in such a preventative way, starting in childhood rather than adult life and changing people’s circumstances through education. It’s the kind of situation where, if these young people were left without support, they would face a very difficult adult life,” he said.
Ray’s inspiring story highlights the transformative impact of fundraising not only for disadvantaged members of society like the young residents of Stepping Stone House, but for the fundraisers themselves.
This article was first published in Open Forum.