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Reaching the heights for at-risk teenagers

April 21, 2011
by Kendall Greenwood

About 20 years ago, Michelle Havens fell while rock climbing. But on Aug. 18, she's going to 'get back on her horse' as she describes it - but this time, it's for a good cause.

Michelle Havens hiking near Pingree Park, CSU's outdoor campus in the Rockies. Summit for Someone

From Aug. 18 to Aug. 21, Havens, coordinator for the Office of Equal Opportunity at CSU, is going to climb and attempt to summit Mount Rainier near Seattle with a program called Summit for Someone.

Summit for Someone is a program sponsored by an outdoor program for at-risk teenagers in Denver called Big City Mountaineers, or BCM. BCM uses outdoor inspired methods to instill traditional youth development goals. Many programs around the country bring their youth to this program because of the positive impact BCM can have. 

“Summit for Someone is the biggest fundraising event for them, and it goes toward taking teens out into outdoor experiences for up to a week at a time,” Havens says.

More than just mountaineering

Summit for Someone organizes mountaineering climbs that raise money for at-risk teenagers who are helped through BCM. This program holds several climbs a year, and each climber is required to donate a certain amount of money to the teenagers that BCM takes on wilderness trips. The amount depends on the duration of the trip.

Havens chose to climb Mount Rainier, which stands at 14,410 feet. The amount of money climbers fundraise for this particular trip is $4,000. Havens decided to do this trip after a friend who is on the board of directors for BCM, Jeff Weidman, told her about it.

“It was right around New Years, and I wanted something that would be really fun to do and be a good way to combine a goal of mine,” Havens says. “I was also hoping that I could help someone else at the same time.”

A life outside

During her college career at the University of Maine, she got really involved with rock climbing. She started leading backpacking and rock climbing trips after taking a two semester long leadership development course.

During her last climb before leaving to study abroad, Havens fell.

“I was traditional climbing, putting my own pieces in and my pieces held, but it really scared me and didn’t get back on the horse, so to speak,” Havens says.

Other outdoor sports, like adventure racing and triathlons, caught her interest, though. Her last adventure race was the Adventure Xstream Series in Moab, Utah. It was a 12-hour race, but Havens finished in eight-and-a- half hours.

Havens’ mother inspired her and her siblings at a young age to love the outdoors, and ever since, it has been an important part of her life. Her father died at a young age so Havens and her five older siblings were raised by their mother, who loved skiing and would take them out whenever she could.

“I was raised by a single parent, and she found ways [to let us join her], like she’d ski patrol or teach skiing so that all her kids could go skiing for free,” Havens says.

Michelle Havens and KeilorHome-grown inspiration

Not only did her mother inspire her love of the outdoors, she also inspired Havens to do the Summit for Someone.

“I don’t think that a lot of kids get that opportunity, to have someone who would take the time to do that,” Havens says of her mother.

As part of her fundraising, Havens sent out a letter to all her family and friends explaining why she is doing the climb and what the money would go toward. In this e-mail, she put a special mention of her mother and what the outdoors has done for her.

“I was lucky enough to have a wonderful mom who got me outdoors when I was so little that I can’t even remember,” Haven says. “These early experiences forever changed who I am and have given me strength, courage, and confidence that I would have never been able to obtain on my own.”

Hard at work

As coordinator for the Office of Equal Opportunity, Havens’ work responsibilities include complaints, discrimination, and sexual harassment at the University. She also works in the area of disabilities.

While her involvement with Summit for Someone does not coincide directly with her job, the event does support the University’s values in civic responsibility, inclusiveness and diversity, and opportunity and access. Havens hopes CSU will support her in her involvement with an organization devoted to helping at-risk teenagers.

“The participants from BCM come from varied backgrounds and are typically those who may not otherwise have an opportunity such as this,” Havens says.