Imagine standing at the base of a 20,000 foot mountain. A mountain known to have some of the worst weather in the world – only 200 miles south of the North Pole. Denali is one of the Seven Summits – the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Its vertical rise is higher than Mount Everest. As you read this, Sara Safari is preparing to climb it, and she is doing it for girls and young women like me.

I’m no stranger to peaks and valleys. My life has been a constant preparation for the next adventure and even when things go really well, I still find myself living on survival mode because it’s the only coping mechanism that has helped me weather each of my storms. It wasn’t just about learning to dance in the rain and waiting for the rainbow, I learned early on that in order to get to where I wanted to be, I had to push myself in more ways than I could have imagined and that I couldn’t do it alone.

I am forever grateful to National Crittenton, and especially to one of the local agencies, Crittenton Services of Greater Washington. As a fifteen year-old mother in high school, I had accepted the fact that my journey had come to an end and that I had hit rock bottom. There was no future, and the road ahead of me would be a bumpy one. When I got pregnant with my son shortly after, I lost all willingness to fight. Throughout the bad, I joined a program offered at my school that focused on self-advocacy, parenting, positive relationships, and this crazy idea that young mothers are capable of achieving their goals. I left the toxic, abusive relationship I had found myself trapped in, and finished high school. I went off to college, and became the first person in my family to get a Master’s degree.

Photo courtesy of Sara Safari

In April 2015, Sara Safari climbed Everest when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit. After she was rescued, climbing took on a newfound meaning for her. “My journey began as a personal challenge,” Sara says, “but I quickly realized that if I could climb my own Everest, maybe I could inspire others to climb their own mountains.” Now, Sara is on a journey to climb the Seven Summits and raise funds for organizations working to support girls and women. It will take her twenty days to climb Denali to raise $20,000 for National Crittenton.

Lisette Engel, Director at National Crittenton. Photo by Jasmine Henderson.

After 17 years of volunteering, speaking, giving back, and organizing, I’ve found myself in a position where I can share with others the support that helped me overcome my hurdles. Along the way, I needed cheerleaders who truly believed I was capable of reaching my goals, no matter how impossible they seemed. Having a village that rallied behind me pushed me harder and motivated me to get to the “top” – whatever that meant. I never intended to take this journey alone, and along the way I wanted to use my pain and newfound healing to help others find their potential, walk hand in hand to make a difference, and create a movement. Being a founding member of an initiative called BOLD (Bridging Opportunity Love and Determination) gave me that opportunity, and coming together with other women who had the same vision of helping young women become advocates and create change was life changing. Today, I find myself continuing to advocate for the issues I’m so passionate about as staff with National Crittenton. I have come full circle, for sure.

I often hear that you shouldn’t look back at what you’ve left behind so that you can continue to move forward. I can’t say that I completely agree. Every experience served as a lesson to help me overcome fears and accept that the only person holding me back was me. As a parent, a woman, survivor, and advocate my ultimate achievement comes to me every day. Having the opportunity to work with young women who are resilient, amazing, and strong reminds me that there is room at the top for everyone, and that we all have the responsibility to build a ladder so that we can all get there.

So as Sara Safari embarks on her twenty-day climb up Denali this weekend, let’s all come together and build that ladder for girls, young women and gender nonconforming young people supported by the work of National Crittenton and the Crittenton family of agencies. Help Sara reach her goal of raising $20,000 for the 20,000 feet of elevation she will overcome, and make a difference in the lives of girls, young women, and gender nonconforming young people who are still preparing to climb their own mountains.

You can support Sara’s climb for girls by donating here, and learn more about Sara Safari’s journey at www.climbyoureverest.org.