Group plans to scale Rainier in an effort to raise money for clean water

When Islander Sue Carette first learned she could climb Mount Rainier and have the trek help bring clean water to Central America, she knew immediately she wanted to be part of the journey.

This week, after nine months of raising money and training, she and eight other people — including two with Vashon roots — are attempting to summit the 14,411-foot peak as a fundraiser for the Vashon Rotary’s Climb for Clean Water campaign, which will help bring water systems to 8,000 people in 13 villages in Guatemala, including Vashon’s sister city, Santiago de Atitlan

“My mom is from El Salvador,” said Carette, a real estate agent with Windermere. “The people of El Salavador are Mayan, and so are the people of these villages. It just felt: It’s in my blood.”

While few Islanders have a familial connection to the region like Carette’s, many feel a kinship with the area. Indeed, because of the longstanding sister-city relationship of Vashon and Santiago Atitlan, the Vashon Rotary, in partnership with other clubs and organizations, has been working with the region since 2007 to enhance public health services in several villages hurt by Hurricane Stan in 2005. The hurricane caused extensive mudslides and created a crisis for the people near Lake Atitlan. Another blow to the area came in June 2010, when Hurricane Agnes destroyed more of the infrastructure, as well as people’s homes.

Now, after four years of work there, Vashon Rotary is poised to help bring systems that will carry clean water to the hardest hit villages, an effort, organizers say, that will reduce the rate of diarrhea among children, a leading cause of death in the villages, where as many as half the children suffer from it.

Sam Collins, a former Islander who used to head Vashon Youth & Family Services, was active in Vashon’s Rotary while he lived here, and the Climb for Clean Water is his brainchild. He and his family moved to Washington D.C. last summer, but the move did not hinder his interest in Guatemala and Vashon Rotary’s work there.

“This is a commitment I took on as a Rotarian and as a person,” he said. “Clean water is such a fundamental part of women’s health. Clean water is such a fundamental part of the children’s heath. Clean water is such a part of nutrition.”

He noted that Rotary is not just going into the country and telling them what to do, but is a partner in the process with Guatemalans. Each village created its own plan for a water system and must pay for the studies behind the plan, local materials and labor. Rotary funds will go toward non-local materials and labor.

A few years back, Collins helped a friend of his create the Climbing for Kids program in the San Francisco Bay area, in which up to 50 climbers each year raise funds for youth. Given that history, the idea to climb Mount Rainier came naturally, and Collins was able to borrow some materials from that group and tailor them to this project, he said.

“I see my role as an American is to raise money,” he said. “You can say that times are tough in America, yet relatively speaking, we’re still very affluent.”

Now, nine climbers, including Collins, Carette and Tony Bianchi, the son of Vashon’s Linda and Dick Bianchi, are heading up the mountain, having raised considerable funds to do so.

In order to participate, Collins said, each climber had to raise $3,000, or provide that much from his or her own coffers. In all, he expects the climb to net $25,000 for the cause, which, with matching grants, will become $50,000 or $75,000. And, Collins said, another climb next year might be possible.

So far, Collins has raised $5,200, and Carette $4,600.

Carette had no experience in fundraising, she said, and has been pleasantly surprised with her results.

“It’s been phenomenal, the experience of fundraising,” she said. “I have learned that there are so many people out there who want to to give.”

People have provided generous financial support, she noted, and those who could not provide financial support offered what they could: One person donated fresh eggs, which Carette said she appreciated for their protein, and another person donated daily use of her home gym, which Carette used frequently, she said.

Both Carette and Collins say they are ready for the climb. In addition to working out in the home gym, Carette has gone on several training hikes with her partner Colleen Carette. Collins said he has been training, too. A former mountaineer, he noted his gear was dusty from years of disuse when his kids were young, but he has been working out at the gym and going on long training hikes with his pack on in Washington D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, climbing every hill he could find.

“It’s a like a marathon,” Collins noted. “It’s a matter of pace and taking the next step.”

“I can climb it,” Carette said. “The mountain willing.”


The Climb for Clean Water will be from Aug. 17 to 20. People can donate to the project up to Sept. 20. For more information and to donate, see Sue Carette also created her own page for donations. See





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