Marcus Allen and BBBS Independence Board Members.
The climb for youth mentorship will take place from Dec. 1-8 at the end of this year. Photo: Michael Gray/TML Communications

The Big Adventure 2022: Why Big Brothers Big Sisters wants to go to Kilimanjaro for youth mentorship

15 climbers will ascend Africa’s tallest mountain from Dec. 1-8 in hopes of raising $500,000.


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At a press conference at the Pyramid Club in downtown Philadelphia, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Independence CEO Marcus Allen unveiled his most ambitious fundraising effort to date for youth mentorship in the Greater Philadelphia region.

He, BBBS Independence Board Chair Stephen Smith, and board members Donna Higgins and Gary Jonas will be traveling to Tanzania in December alongside 15 other donors and supporters to climb Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro.

The hope is that the climb will help BBBS Independence raise $500,000 for youth mentorship in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

But Allen says it’s about much more than the money.

“$500,000 is going to help us to take 300 kids off of our engagement list. Kids who are waiting to match with a caring and compassionate adult,” he said. “At Big Brothers Big Sisters, our mission is to help kids reach their full promise and potential, and I would dare to say that there’s not one of us in our lives that haven’t had an adult who's helped us accomplish more than we ever thought we could accomplish.”

The Kilimanjaro trip is the second Big Adventure being launched by BBBS Independence. It’s an effort that was inspired by Allen’s own little during the pandemic.

Nasir, who Allen was matched with for four years through BBBS, called him one morning to inform him that his father had passed away in his sleep. He was also struggling with bullies in school, and his grandmother encountered her own problems raising Nasir in North Philadelphia.

“Of course as his big I was there for him and his grandmother, and their family, but it made me think about what more could we as an organization do to show kids like Nasir how we can be here for them,” said Allen.

It was also important for Allen to not make it just a proclamation, as is often done, but make it a “demonstration.”

After talking it over with the BBBS Independence board, the Big Adventure was born, and the first “adventure” was a 51-day bike ride Allen took last year alongside Jonas and two other participants from San Francisco, California to Atlantic City, New Jersey. 

The journey to Kilimanjaro will not only include a bigger team of participants, but is also symbolic for both its location and the action taking place.

Allen said Africa was symbolic because of Philadelphia’s status as a majority minority city, where the Black population is the highest despite declining in the last decade, per 2020 census data.

The mountain speaks for itself when it comes to symbolism.

“We started to think about the big obstacles and challenges in life that all of us face,” said Allen of the early conversations around the Kilimanjaro climb. “Understanding that every person has to overcome overwhelming odds and challenges in their life regardless of what they look like, regardless of what their zip code is, they’re facing these challenges.

The second Big Adventure for BBBS Independence will happen from Dec. 1-8, 2022.



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