On Father's Day weekend, I will once again don my climbing boots, grab the ice axe and head up the snowy flanks of 14,000-foot Mt. Shasta in far Northern California.
As it has been for the past five years, I won't be alone.
In 2012, the organization I founded, Fostering Media Connections, led its first group of foster youth and adult supporters up Mt. Shasta.
That first year, we were joined by Kevin Clark. Kevin is a special person. He turned his foster care experience into a calm, positive strength; a strength that makes him a natural leader, an exemplary young man.
While Kevin missed one year climbing up the mountain, he is back for our 5th Annual Foster Youth Questival. I recently spoke with him about that first climb, what it meant to him and why he is heading back to Shasta.
"I decided to join the climb, because I had been involved in physical activity or sports as early as I could remember," Kevin said. "I liked the physical exertion so saw this climb as a way to challenge myself physically and also have connection to some of the advocacy work I was doing."
At that time, Kevin was a member of California Youth Connection, a foster care advocacy group led by former foster youth like himself. He wasn't alone. There were other former foster youth on the climb including Crystal del Valle, who he would share the summit with that year.
Beyond the physical challenge, and that fact that the proceeds of the climb go to support foster youth in their efforts to change the system that raised them, Kevin said he sees the climb as a way for youth to take control of often turbulent lives. In a world where children endure terrible abuse, are removed from their homes and then are bounced through foster care there is little room for choices.
"It is a chance for youth who have experienced things that are out of control to make a decision and take on a pretty serious challenge," he said. "It is your choice to do this. My autonomous self is making the decision to take on this challenge. It's not like being taken away beyond my own will.
It is symbolic that the climb allows me to make a choice to persevere in this struggle."
Near the top of Mt. Shasta, just past Misery Hill, and close to 14,000 feet in the sky is the summit plateau. Kevin had been climbing with two adult supporters in the lead group of about 13 climbers that first year.
It was here, on this cold, relatively flat expanse that Kevin faltered. He was exhausted and had trouble going forward. But he persevered and got to the top. On his way down he saw Crystal fighting her way up, alongside three other climbers and myself.
Instead of going down, Kevin climbed the steep spire to the top one more time. He and Crystal raised their hands in victory.
"I wanted to see her to the top," he said. "I wanted to have something we could show to our community that we both made it."
Kevin is coming back for his fourth trip up the mountain in June. When I ask him why, I hear that excitement that always crackles through base camp before we make the push to the top.
"Dude I am coming back for the youth man," he said. " I am coming back to take part and contribute to ensuring that foster youth have a chance to climb this massive beautiful mountain."
We are still recruiting climbers. If you want to join or donate towards our $20,000 fundraising goal you can visit our Crowdrise page HERE, or donate directly below.