Water For People: Climb For Water, The Next Generation
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Originally printed in the Winter 2016/17 issue of NC Currents magazine.
By Kara Meyers, CDM Smith
It was a chilly February afternoon and we had just stopped for lunch at King’s Hot Dogs in Rural Hall, NC. Planted in a sea of asphalt and yellow parking lines, King’s was a local town treasure that made you feel privy to a cherished secret as you pulled up to its landscape of weathered picnic tables and faded Pepsi-Cola umbrellas. I was with a group of hikers that were a part of the Climb for Water (CFW) team – a group founded in 2011 that raises funds for Water For People, an organization that helps people in developing countries improve the quality of life by supporting the development of locally sustainable drinking water resources and sanitation facilities. We had just completed one of our first training hikes for CFW’s fourth expedition to Mt. Washington and the hot dogs were our reward for a climb well done.
After a crash course in the intricacies of southern sides – hush puppies? They’re like clumps of fried corn… pimento cheese?? That’s like super chunky cheesespread… where are you from again?! – I sat down with my ketchup-smothered hot dog and properly introduced myself to the group. I was with CFW veterans who in years past had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa (2011); Pikes Peak in Colorado (2012); and Cotopaxi in Quito, Ecuador (2014). Among the group was Kraig Kern (W. K. Dickson & Co.) who founded CFW in 2011, and the late Paul Judge, a beloved CFW member who was committed to NC AWWA-WEA Water For People. We devoured our beef franks as we discussed the upcoming trip. The climb would be here before we knew it, and we needed to begin our fundraising campaigns. The group chatted on, an inviting chorus of laughter and comradery, reminiscing like the old and trusted friends that they were. I cautiously took a bite of my first apple fritter and looked up to see Paul smiling warmly. This was a tightly-knit group, and I was grateful to be there.
About a year prior, I had met Kraig at a North Carolina American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC/NC) event. I was new to the area and eager to start meeting other professionals in my field. Kraig and I instantly bonded over our experiences climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, as well as our professions as non-technical marketers navigating our way through the engineering industry. The conversation quickly turned to CFW and we chatted excitedly about potential future climbs and shared our climbing bucket lists. An organization that raises funds for Water For People by climbing mountains and incredible peaks?! I knew I had just stumbled into something I wanted to be a part of. We clinked glasses, exchanged information and, within a few months, CFW’s fourth expedition – and the hotdog training hike – were on my calendar.
Ascending Mt. Washington was breathtaking. If you have never traveled to New Hampshire or taken in the fresh air of the northern east coast peaks, I promise it will lift your spirit and touch your soul. And for many, including myself, climbing is sometimes a solitary experience – it’s a time for self-reflection and introspection, a time to assess how far you have come and where you still want to go. Paul’s passing in March 2016 reminded us all of the fragility of life, and just how fast and finite our time really is. I thought back on the last two years. Although I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when it happened, or what served as its catalyst, at some point and by some extraordinary means, a fire lit within me. Not just a tamed fire with a few crackling logs, but a blazing fire that filled me with passion and a burning desire to succeed.
A little over two years ago, I relocated to Raleigh from Minnesota to join CDM Smith’s marketing team. While joining a new group and learning a new service sector had its challenges, I plunged into my role and refused to let the fact that I was not an engineer – or that I was a woman in a male-dominated industry – stand in my way. I was determined to join every committee, subcommittee, and organization that I could, and I resolved to attend every technical session, industry conference, and networking event available to me. I was going to ask for more responsibilities, volunteer to take on new and different things, and go above and beyond any expectations that had been set for me.
I remember being nervous on my drive to meet the CFW team for our first training hike; feeling unsure of myself, and worrying that I would not have the time or the ability to climb alongside the others. And I felt this way before attending and participating in many other industry events, too. But had I listened to any of that self-doubt, decided I was too tired to attend a networking event, or too busy to involve myself in a group like CFW, I would not be where I am today. I am a proud board member of the American Public Works Association (APWA) NC Stormwater Management Division; a founding member of the APWA-NC Young Professionals Committee; and an active member of multiple committees and subcommittees with the NC AWWA-WEA, including the NC Water For People Committee. I also volunteer with the MATHCOUNTS Foundation and will soon be working with the RTP Professional Chapter of Engineers Without Borders.
My point to all millennials is this: take initiative and get involved. No one approached or asked me to join or participate in any organization; I took it upon myself to seek out the information, ask questions, and get myself involved. If a marketer from Minnesota can dive headfirst into the North Carolina engineering community, you can too. We are the future of this industry, so get to know your peers, make connections, and foster those relationships. Don’t wait for opportunities to present themselves; take the initiative to get involved and connect with others in your field. Attend conferences, networking events, and industry socials, and look for ways to give back to the community in creative and meaningful ways, like CFW. Don’t just aspire to find a job that you love; aspire to build a meaningful and rewarding career. You alone are responsible for the progression and trajectory of your professional path – take accountability and responsibility for your own success.
The 6,288-foot ascent of Mt. Washington was no walk in the park. Our team journeyed up the Lion’s Head Trail and traversed 4,000 vertical feet in just four miles, including several hundred yards of steep and unstable bouldering. Slowly but surely, the CFW team gathered at the top to celebrate another successful climb – and to celebrate and honor a beloved team member who, albeit not physically, had climbed right beside all of us each step of the way. Some of Paul’s closest friends gave him a beautiful tribute that day, at the top of the mountain, as the sun warmed our cheeks and the fresh mountain air danced around us. The day could not have been more beautiful, nor the climbing conditions more perfect; all of us knew who to thank, and we did, and still do.
To date, CFW has raised nearly $50,000 for Water For People. Be a part of the next expedition – and play a meaningful role in the future of this industry. Let’s get involved and give back, together.
About the Author
Kara Meyers, BA, MA, is a proposal coordinator and marketing writer for CDM Smith. This was her first climb with CFW. For more information on ways to get involved, connect with Kara at linkedin.com/in/kara-meyers or Meyersk@cdmsmith.com.