ARYNN (Quaderer) Maxa handing out school supplies to children near Patongo, in the Northern Region of Uganda, Africa. (Courtesy Photo)
By Melissa Shepard, associate editor
Matt Gewirtz, a Chesaning native, has had the climbing of Mt. Kilimanjaro on his bucket list since he read a book by the late Michael Crichton, called “Travels,” when he was in the 7th grade. The book documented the author’s personal travels, both physical and spiritual. One of the chapters focused on the spiritual climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. “I was fascinated by the challenge behind it,” said Gewirtz.
When he was ready, he contacted two past Chesaning High School classmates, Arynn (Quaderer) Maxa and Renae (James) Solheid. “They thought I was crazy, but we discussed the purpose of the journey and what it stood for, ” said Gewirtz. They decided to dedicate their climb to three young people that had passed away too soon, Londyn Solheid, Renae’s daughter; Lucas Isom from Saginaw; and Hannah Rivard from Alma. The goal was to honor them every step of the way and remind people that they will never be forgotten. The climb was six days to the top (-25 degrees) and two days down.
The trio trained for over one year before the climb. During training, they decided that while in Tanzania they wanted to make a bigger impact by giving back to the communities. This led them to the Northern Region of Uganda, where they stayed for seven days. “When people found out that we were going to travel into Uganda after the climb something really beautiful happened. People from the surrounding areas of Chesaning, Owosso and Saginaw started to reach out and ask the question ‘How can I help?’ ” said Gewirtz.
Mark Agnew, Cory Agnew and Scottie Waters from Agnew Graphics in Owosso handed me a cash donation and said, “We would like to help the children of Uganda.” The donation fed over 600 children in the northern region. Jean and Tom Matula from Swan Valley Florist in Saginaw paid for all the medical bills in a hospital near the Patongo Village. Megan Friend’s third grade class at Central Elementary donated soccer balls to a school in the Agago District on behalf of their ‘Kindness Project.’
The most surprising donation received was 600 pounds of used school supplies gathered by Chesaning Teachers Shari Gewirtz, Kylee Hoerner, Holly Hemgesberg and Annie Bitterman. “It reminded me of why I’m proud to be from Chesaning. I didn’t ask one single person for help or donations, they came to me. That’s what makes this special. They took their own time, energy and resources to help someone on the other side of the planet – someone less fortunate,” said Gewirtz.
Here is just a small list of contributors: 600 pounds of school supplies were gathered and donated by these Chesaning classrooms: Shari Gewirtz’s classroom (Matt’s mom), Kylee Hoerner’s classroom, Holly Hemgesberg’s classroom, Ashley Habitz’s classroom, Kristi Kowalski’s classroom, Jessica Isom’s classroom and Holly and Beau Reed; 600 children were fed by: Agnew Graphics – Mark Agnew, Cory Agnew and Scottie Waters; medical bills for 30 patients were paid by: Jean and Tom Matula; electricity in an orphanage was turned back on and paid for in advance for the next year 250 children were fed by: Mary Kay and Randy Hoerner and Jill and Mike Birchmeier; maintenance of a water pump so the children could drink clean water was paid for by: Cortlin Patterson (The Legend) and Ashley and Brian Drexler; soccer balls and planted trees to feed the community were donated by: Mrs. Friend’s third grade class in Owosso, as part of ‘The Kindness Project;’ several trees for the villages were donated by: Jody and Kyle Bandlow Family, Kristi and John Kowalski Family and Trisha and Damon Duran Family. Also, Delta Airlines heard about what the trio was doing and contacted them and offered to ship the 600 lbs. of school supplies to Uganda for free.
“A special thanks to Eddie Ebenhoeh, of Chesaning, for personally training me for the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro,” said Gewirtz.
Gewirtz videotaped his time in Uganda, while handing out the donations, so that when he returned home, the donors could see.
Gewirtz was asked a few weeks ago about his travels for the last 10 years. The question was “What is the greatest place you’ve ever traveled in the world?” His answer: “Chesaning, MI… because it’s home.”