DU student ‘climbing for a cause’

Woman summiting fourteeners to help ShelterBox

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A University of Denver graduate student has found a way to combine her love of the outdoors with her passion for helping others.

Brittney Woodrum, 27, is an ambassador for ShelterBox USA — an international disaster relief organization that “focuses on providing shelter to those who have lost it,” Woodrum said. A ShelterBox is a container of essential items to sustain displaced people.

To bring awareness and raise money for the organization’s COVID-19 emergency relief fund, Woodrum has embarked on her Climbing for a Cause: the Fourteeners Project — she will be climbing all 58 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains.

And she’s climbing them with a 60-liter teal ShelterBox on her back.

“ShelterBox ambassadors tend to do crazy challenges with the box,” Woodrum said, adding the box accompanies them on the physical challenges for awareness purposes. “Physical challenges are nothing new to me (and) I’m always looking for opportunities to combine my passions.”

Woodrum is a triathlete and in the past has participated in physical challenges for various fundraising/awareness events. She became an ambassador for ShelterBox after learning about the organization as she was researching humanitarian groups that she could get involved with as she pursued her master’s degree.

Originally from Kentucky, Woodrum earned her undergraduate degree in nonprofit administration and Spanish from the University of Kentucky. She lived abroad for about five years — most of the time was spent in southeast Asia — and moved to Denver about a year ago to earn a graduate degree in humanitarian assistance from DU. Colorado was particularly attractive to her because of the state’s abundance of outdoor recreation, she said, pointing out that she had heard of Colorado’s iconic fourteeners.

ShelterBox is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in both 2018 and 2019. It got its start as a project by a Rotary Club in England.

What ShelterBox does is provide people who have been displaced because of natural disaster or conflict with the essential items needed to set up a household, said Kerri Murray, president of ShelterBox USA. These items include a tent, in addition to other basic needs such as water filtration, solar-powered lights, warm blankets, cooking equipment and even a children’s activity set, Murray said.

“They’re little things,” Woodrum said, “but they play a big role in keeping vulnerable communities safe.”

ShelterBox has responded to at least 300 disasters around the globe, Murray said, including the 2015 earthquake in Nepal and the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Since 2012, ShelterBox has provided emergency shelter to about 250,000 displaced Syrian refugees.

“The need for ShelterBox has grown because of COVID-19,” Murray added. “And it has also had to adapt because the needs are different for this (public health) disaster.”

One adaption is including water basins and soap in the box, Murray said.

Woodrum had originally planned on doing her Fourteeners Project after she had graduated from DU.

But then the coronavirus hit and began to spread worldwide.

“Disasters haven’t stopped just because COVID is happening,” Woodrum said. “It was challenging to be stuck at home and not able to help. I felt this was the time to do this project. It’s something I can do without putting others at risk” of spreading the virus.

Woodrum is camping on public lands about 97% of the time, and the other three percent will be at a private residence - no hotel/motel stays are part of the excursion, Woodrum said. She also spent May and June dehydrating food to minimize trips into towns, she added. The ShelterBox she is hiking with is mostly empty, with the exception of water, snacks and extra layers of clothing, Woodrum said. It weighs about 10 pounds, Woodrum said, adding everybody always wants to know how much it weighs.

Woodrum’s goal is to fundraise $1,400 per peak, for a total of about $80,000, all of which will go to ShelterBox’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. A special peak sponsorship is available for people or a group of people who donate the entire $1,400. Calling such a supporter a mountain hero, Woodrum will climb the mountain with an item or keepsake that the donor provides and take a photograph of herself at the top with the item. And/or they can choose to get a name mention by Woodrum in a video at the summit.

She began on July 10 and about five days later at the time of the interview, guessed that she will have climbed 15 or 20 mountains by the beginning of August. Woodrum expects to finish the challenge with Pikes Peak near the end of September.

Woodrum “wants to make a difference in the world,” Murray said. And “what’s so touching is that ambassadors work to help people who they’ll probably never meet in their lifetime.”

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