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WNY woman's hike up Mount Kilimanjaro will have a lasting impact on Tanzania school

Lauren Molenda of East Aurora raised more than $25,000 for Girls Education Collaborative as part of her climb.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — "I just had so much adrenaline at that point, finally having achieved this thing that I wanted for so long that I was kind of almost on a different planet." 

That's how Lauren Molenda remembers the final moments of her ascent up Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. 

"I was like bouncing around at the top, I was like running the last quarter mile or so to the summit," she said. "It felt like running. The video sort of looks like hobbling, but in my head it looks like running." 

Either way, after six straight days of hiking, Molenda hardly cared what the last few steps looked like. 

"Sometimes, I hear of people who are so sick that they kind of just get to the top and touch it, and turn around and walk down," she said. 

"I was really happy that we spent some time up there, we took some pictures. You know, we were able to enjoy the sunrise, which was just incredible to be that high, and know that you got to that elevation on your own two feet. "

Molenda tackled the challenge with the global leadership program Mountains and Marathons. She and 11 teammates from around the world went through the six month virtual course together, before meeting up for climb as a group.  

"I think a big part for me, was just taking the focus off of this physical thing that I'm trying to get done and reach the top, but to do it surrounded by people that I care very deeply about," Molenda shared. 

The memories Molenda brought back from Africa are priceless, but what she left behind might end up meaning more. Even though the course and the climb came with a cost of $20,000, she decided early on to add a charitable goal to the experience. 

"As part of this I have been doing a fundraiser for Girls Education Collaborative," Molenda explained. "They run a school just a couple miles away from the base of Kilimanjaro, which is so amazing, even though they're a Buffalo-based non profit." 

Anne Wadsworth, the executive director of Girls Education Collaborative, couldn't believe it when she head what Molenda was doing. The organization had already been running a virtual "Kili for Kitenga" fundraiser, where supporters could "hike" the length of the mountain on their own while collecting donations for Kitenga Secondary School for Girl. 

"Then when she called, and said, 'really, I'm doing this, I'm actually climbing it and I'd love to tie it in to your school,' it was just an incredible synergy," Wadsworth said. 

Molenda's fundraiser has collected more than $25,000 and counting, which will result in both immediate and lasting impact at school.  

"We can actually discover water, dig a new well, store it, and provide daily water for years to come for over 100 students," Wadsworth explained, giving just a single example of where the donations will go. 

"It just makes me feel really excited that we were able to do this for them," Molenda said. "I think that it's going to make like a huge difference for some of these girls that really wouldn't have a lot of opportunities if this school didn't exist." 

Now back at home in the southtowns with her husband and young daughter, and working at the advertising agency she co-owns in Orchard Park, Molenda is still coming off the 20,000 foot high of climbing her first of the seven summits. She's been entertaining invitations from local climbing clubs to share her experience. 

"I'm really happy to tell the story as many times as people want to hear it," Molenda said. "Even to encourage other people to kind of jump in and do an adventure, even if they're a little nervous about it, I feel very much like if I can do this anybody can. "

Lauren's fundraiser for Kitenga Secondary School for Girl is still open. If you'd like to donate, click here


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