Being the change he wants to see
On the surface, leading a group of climbers to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro and considering everything from liquor licenses to land use proposals as a member of the Eagle Town Board don’t have much in common.
But for Luis Benitez, those two roles are inextricably intertwined.
Eagle Town Board member Benitez works as the Director of Talent Management at Vail Resorts. He is also a world class climber and guide who has summited Everest seven times. On one of those expeditions, he was the lead guide for blind climber Erik Weihenmayer.
But here’s the thing about how Benitez approaches his life, whether it is unfolding on a mountaintop or in a board room. He works with lots of groups and with lots of individuals and this is something he is fond of saying, “Never be afraid to go out and find your own Everest.”
In Benitez’s world, Everest is both a mountain and a metaphor.
He will be putting that philosophy in action this very week when he leads a group from an organization called Trekking for Kids on a Patagonia Expedition that will include trekking the famous W route for five days and aservice project at an orphanage in Buenos Aires. The trip will commence this Saturday and conclude March 6.
Trekking for Kids
Co-founded in 2005 by José Montero Jr., his sister Ana María, and his late father, Pepe Montero, Trekking for Kids, Inc. combines outdoor adventure with service projects at orphanages. José Montero Jr. serves as the president and board chairman for the organization. Why orphanages? Because Pepe Montero had been an orphan of the Spanish Civil War and his children grew up hearing about the many trials and tribulations faced by orphaned children.
“Many people have described a Trekking for Kids’ Expedition as a ‘life-changing’ experience due to the emotional, physical, and mental challenges often experienced on the trip,” notes the organization’s website. “Our trekkers join our expeditions for a variety of reasons, but they all have one motivation in common, they commit to the trek not just for themselves, but also for a group of orphans with whom they will spend four unforgettable days.”
Benitez has been part of the organization since its inception 10 years ago and he currently sits on the board of directors for Trekking for Kids.
“People want to do adventure travel anyway,” said Benitez. “We thought it would be ideal to do a service project in combination so people could also feel good about the trip and about giving back.”
As the group’s website notes, “On a Trekking for Kids Expedition, very different lives and cultures cross paths when our trekkers interact with the orphans and experience the culture where the trek takes place. The actual trek may have been the main attraction for the trekker prior to joining a Trekking for Kids Expedition, but once he or she arrives in country and visits with the children, the magic of Trekking for Kids begins to manifest itself.”
Benitez noted that the orphanage service project always launches a Trekking for Kids adventure. The group sets to work on an identified project at the orphanage and when the work is done, they make time for play. For example, as part of the upcoming Patagonia trek, the group will be building and planting a sustainable garden and painting furniture at an orphanage in Buenos Aires. When the work is done, Benitez said Trekking for Kids lets the kids choose a special activity. This time around, the trekkers will host the kids for a trip to a nearby butterfly pavilion.
Then, against the backdrop of those experiences, the trekkers take off on their adventure. “When you leave and go off on a trek, those kids are always on your mind,” said Benitez.
Making a difference, attainably
Benitez noted that Trekking for Kids trips are relatively short in duration — usually around 10 days which is sandwiched between two weekends. That is by design because that makes the program attainable for a large group of would-be trekkers.
“We see a lot of families go on these trips,” said Benitez.
Financially, the people who sign up for treks pay the expenses associated with the expedition and then they are asked to raise $1,000 each for the trip’s designated orphanage. As the organization proudly notes, 100 percent of the service project money raised goes directly to the orphanages.
As for his own role with the organization, Benitez puts his considerable skills into motion as a trek guide. He leads the groups on the ground and helps organize the overall logistics of the trip.
“Luis has really dedicated himself to this organization,” said Bridgit Fried, a Trekking for Kids volunteer. “I was at Kilimanjaro with him a couple of years ago and his knowledge and what he brought to the program was amazing.”
Benitez in turn credits the Vail Resorts program called Epic Promise (www.epicpromise.com) for making it possible for him to guiede for Trekking for Kids. Epic Promise gives 40 hours of paid leave to employees “To go do what you want to do in the name of service. It’s a great program and I, for sure, benefit from being part of such a great company with a program like that.”
Walking your talk
While on a trek, Benitez challenges participants to challenge themselves and change the world. That sounds like a tall and universal order, but in reality it is a very personal challenge.
“Our goal is that each trekker finds his or her ‘summit’ at some point during the experience, which positively impacts their personal growth and development. Our hope is that each of us who participates in a Trekking for Kids Expedition returns home a better and more complete person. Find your summit … join us on one of our life changing treks and help us improve today and secure tomorrow one step at a time,” said the organization’s website.
Benitez took that challenge to heart when he opted to run for the Eagle Town Board last spring. “You have to walk your talk,” he said, with a chuckle. “If you really challenge yourself, you can truly change your world.”
To learn more about Trekking for Kids, visit the organization’s website at http://www.trekkingforkids.org.