Notre Dame Academy senior Claire Konieczny is taking her senior capstone project higher than any of her classmates. After leaving May 4 for her campaign, “Bringing Sunshine to Mount Everest,” Claire will climb more than 18,000 feet to the North Base Camp on Mount Everest in Tibet with her aunt Janet Miller and cousin Paul Mackovjak to raise money for Sunshine, a nonprofit organization in Maumee.
“It’s a really great place and is a great cause,” Claire said. “Going on this trip is such an amazing experience, so being able to use it for something more than just a vacation is great. It means a lot more than just sightseeing. You’re doing something for others while you’re over there.”
Sunshine materials say its mission is to “create community among people with developmental disabilities, their families, friends and staff. Sunshine does this by offering services that enable us to build relationships that enhance our lives through mutual caring and growth.”
Claire connected to Sunshine through family, with an aunt on the board and a cousin who is the communications coordinator.
“The organization is unique in our community because it supports people who can’t function as easily as people without disabilities,” Claire’s mother Joyce Konieczny said. “They provide that support in such a loving way. My entire family is so committed to helping children, and we have a special spot in our heart for children with special needs. We do have some in our family with special needs. We want to show how much love we have for them.”
From left, Paul Mackovjak, Claire Konieczny and Janet Miller with prayer flags they will take to the Everest Base Camp.
Claire has raised more than $1,100 for Sunshine. Her goal is to raise $18,190 for the 18,190 feet she will climb to base camp.
“It had to be put together on the fly,” Claire said. “We were going to do a fundraiser at my school and that fell through. We set up a Facebook group and an online donation group. We sent bunches of emails and my dad has gone to everybody at work. We’re trying to get it out as fast as we can.”
For more information on the organization or to make a donation, visit Sunshine.org.
“What our life is about is giving something of value to the world,” Joyce said. “I’m just thrilled Claire feels this is important. It shows what Claire’s character is about. When she sets her mind to something she wants to accomplish, she just plots away steadily, working hard to reach that goal with determination and persistence.
Miller is also thrilled with Claire’s determination and charitable efforts.
“I’ve been trying to travel a lot with my nieces and nephews because I learn a lot from them, but I’m hoping they will learn from me too,” she said. “Giving back to the community and philanthropy are essential parts of life, so I’m thrilled with what Claire is doing.”
Claire is grateful to her aunt for providing the inspiration and the opportunity for her project.
“She is an avid world traveler and she invited me as a graduation gift to go to China,” Claire said. “It fell during the time when my school has senior projects, which is when you shadow someone in the profession you are interested in. I’m shadowing her because I’m interested in languages and traveling. I’m going to experience another country with a completely different language.”
Claire has learned a small amount of Chinese on top of taking four years of French classes and a year of Spanish. Her unique project strays from the standard guidelines, but the school was happy to make an exception.
“I had to get this cleared through a bunch of people at my school,” Claire said. “Usually you have to write a paper and keep a log of what you do each day. When I spoke to my principal she said I would be exempt from all that because there is so much planning already going into this trip.”
Much of the planning for the trip has come from Miller, who has traveled to all seven continents including visiting third-world countries.
“My sister is an experienced world traveler,” Joyce said. “She has been coaching Claire and Paul on everything from the shots they need to training for climbing to what clothing to wear. She’s been their mentor through this entire process.”
“It’s been quite a whirlwind because I needed to get my passport and a visa to go into China,” Claire said. “My aunt has been doing a ton of digging around with friends who have been mountain climbing. They are suggesting different things because of the altitude. We’ve had to get several shots. There’s been a lot of preparation for this.”
Claire has little experience with climbing and has learned about many dangers experienced when reaching such high elevations.
“Claire’s hike will be challenging from a number of aspects, not least of which is there is only half as much oxygen at 17,000 feet than there is here in nearly sea level Toledo,” said Bob Ampthor, associate director of development at Sunshine, who has climbed Mont Blanc in France. “Claire will face challenges on her journey just like those we serve at Sunshine face every day. There will be unfriendly terrain, strange languages and customs yet also friendly faces, lots of community and many choices.”
Miller has the most climbing experience of the group, going 13,000 feet high on Machu Picchu in Peru. The extra 5,000 feet to the base camp on Mount Everest will present her with new challenges.
“We’re going to be at such a high altitude that if you cut yourself it won’t heal because of the lack of oxygen,” Miller said. “I’ve talked to some people who have been climbing, so I got ideas from them on how to prevent blisters and what to wear. You have to wear wool and not any cotton. I’ve learned a lot for this trip too.”
More than the Mount
The trip will involve much more than Mount Everest. Claire said she is excited to tour the Forbidden City in Beijing, see the Great Wall of China and visit Lhasa to see Potala Palace. The trip also includes stops at Yamdrok Yutso Lake, Karola Glacier and Pelkhor Monastery.
“It will be an experience to see it face to face instead of just in pictures,” Claire said. “This is my first trip doing anything like this. I’m more excited than nervous, but I’m a little nervous for the trip. I haven’t been on a plane in awhile. It’s such a long flight. It’s definitely a different world when you get over there.”
Miller, who works at University Hospital in Cleveland, has a project of her own called “Climb for the Kids” to raise money for the Rainbow Children’s Hospital. She has raised more than $25,000 for the hospital. Miller will attempt to find an Internet connection during the trip to provide updates at RainbowClimb.Blogspot.com.
Part of her project involves the tradition of placing prayer flags around the mountain ridges. She took pieces of cloth to an elementary school and another set to the Rainbow Children’s Hospital. After the children and their parents filled out messages on the cloth, Miller sewed the pieces together to create a flag.
“As I put them together, I saw very moving messages from the kids,” Miller said. “One said, ‘Please help my little sister feel better’ and another has a picture of a little girl with hair and says ‘I want my hair back,’ because she went through chemotherapy. Another kid had one that just said ‘I want to go home.’ It’s heart-wrenching in some respects, but it gives another meaning to why this is important because we’re raising money to help make kids healthy.”
Tags: Claire Konieczny, Mount Everest, Notre Dame Academy, Sunshine