Homeless youth have many hills to climb as they try to turn their lives around.
To provide inspiration and raise money for homeless youth in Kelowna, local social worker Victoria Schermel is going to climb one of the world’s highest mountains — Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.
Schermel, who grew up in Ontario and lived in Alberta and the Lower Mainland for several years before settling in Kelowna two years ago, is committed to helping turn around the lives of the large number of homeless youth she works with in the Okanagan’s largest city.
She works with the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club, which is one of many sponsors involved in her upcoming journey to Africa.
“I work directly with homeless teens and those at risk of becoming homeless,” she said. “I help teens at risk and help connect them to other supports. I mediate their relationships at home, I help them access housing and having their basic needs met and I also help them do safety planning and harm reduction. My job is to try and help them get their lives back on track.”
Schermel said she decided to climb Kilimanjaro to show the kids she works with that anything is possible if you put your mind — and heart and soul — into it.
“I wanted to do something that was big and brave,” she said. “I really felt that I wanted to do something that was really challenging and was going to take a lot of hard work and discipline. I just really want to be a role model for the youth I work with. They struggle every day with large goals, which include battling with mental-health problems . . . dealing with addictions or traumas in their life and I just really wanted to help inspire and empower them to do great things with their life.”
Schermel said climbing one of the world’s most iconic mountains seemed attainable because you don’t need a lot of climbing experience as you can walk the entire way to the summit, which is almost 20,000 feet above sea level.
“I also like to continually challenge myself to do new things,” she said. “Last year, I signed up for my first two 10-kilometre races for different charity endeavours. I’m always trying to push myself to another level to see what I can do, so this just made a lot of sense to me.”
Climbing Kilimanjaro also “acts as a great metaphor for ending homelessness, which feels like climbing a mountain for so many people and I wanted to do something big.”
Schermel’s adventure and fundraising effort will begin on Oct. 10. She will be gone for two weeks — the actual climb takes about seven days — and hopes to raise a minimum of $10,000, which will be used to improve programs and services for homeless youth in Kelowna.
Schermel will be travelling to Africa with a group called Charity Challenge, which includes 20 other participants from around the world all looking to raise funds for worthy causes.
Schermel is paying for the trip largely out of her own pocket, but has received sponsorship from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club and Kelowna Toyota has been a generous corporate donor, she said. The local United Way and non-profit The Journey Home have also been supportive, she said.
Every penny raised during her trip will go directly to the Upstream Project designed to end youth homelessness in Kelowna, she said.
While her job is rewarding, knowing she’s making a difference in the lives of so many young people who are struggling to survive, Schermel said it’s heartbreaking when you realize just how many youngsters don’t have a roof over their head and have fallen through the cracks.
“I’ve always been passionate about helping teenagers,” she said. “I took my degree in psychology because I wanted to help others and I remain passionate about helping others, so this has been the perfect fit for me and I feel I was meant to do this with my professional life.”
Schermel acknowledges she has been training hard in the gym to get ready for this once-in-a-lifetime excursion.
“I’ve been doing regular long hikes every Saturday all summer,” she said. “I’ve just been going on runs and staying fit and trying to eat healthy.”
Schermel admits the climb is going to be challenging.
“I really hurt my ankle in April and I’m still recovering from that so I’m a little worried about that,” she said. “I’m also going to have to battle altitude sickness, but I’m going there confident.”
If things go as well as planned, Schermel said she will be tackling other challenges to help homeless youth.
“You will definitely see me around . . . this is my career and this is what I’m passionate about,” she said.
If you want to donate to Schermel’s cause, she has a crowdfunding page on Trellis at trellis.org/tooniechallengehome.com.