PONTIAC — Terry Herr was once afraid of heights. This spring, he plans to climb to the top of Mount Everest.
The Chicago man shared his inspiration for hiking the tallest mountain on earth with students Wednesday at his former school, St. Mary’s Catholic School in Pontiac.
“There are some kids without their mom or dad and they live in foster care. I’m trying to raise awareness and money for those kids so they can get the resources they need,” said Herr, who has scaled more than 20 mountains. “If I’m going to get attention for climbing Everest, let’s direct that attention to charity.”
Everest measures 29,029 feet above sea level. Herr plans to raise $29,029, a dollar for each foot, to donate to Children’s Home & Aid, which is headquartered in Bloomington.
The organization provides counseling and access to community resources for children and families.
“I am so impressed by Terry’s vision to combine both his personal passion and drive to summit Mount Everest with his commitment to make his community a better place for the lives of children and families,” said Lisa Pieper, regional vice president of Children’s Home & Aid.
Pieper said money from the fundraiser will fund statewide services like child care, counseling, support services, young mother guidance and the cost of toys, games and books.
Herr has formed the Cairn for Kids Campaign to collect donations. He has raised $11,200 to date.
“A 'cairn' is a Gaelic word for a stack of rocks. Cairns are used when you go on hiking trails and you stack up stones to use as trail markers. They are there to guide you. The biggest cairn in our lives is Jesus, but we all have different people acting as cairns to help us,” he said.
After telling St. Mary’s students tales about previous mountains he has scaled and letting them check out his hiking gear, Herr allowed each student to sign a banner he will take with him to Everest in May. Several Illinois foster children also signed the banner.
"As you go through school and grow up, look for the cairns in your life. More importantly, learn to be someone else's cairn. If you do that, great things will happen," he said.
Herr gave each student a small rock as they left the assembly to symbolize cairns.
Fourth-graders Cayden Masching and Haidyn Francis said they were impressed by Herr’s mission.
“It’s cool to see how he was inspired to climb mountains even though he used to be afraid of falling. It’s interesting to know someone who went to our school is going to climb Everest and raise money for foster kids,” said Cayden.
Haidyn said she’s glad to see the fundraiser will “help people without moms and dads.”
“It’s so awesome. We’re just a little school and this guy is going to Mount Everest, hopefully to the top,” she said.
Katie Wille of Pontiac, a retired St. Mary’s teacher, taught Herr as a student in 1985.
“I’m really proud of him and the way he brought God into his talk here. It’s wonderful that he thought our school was important enough to return to and share his experience with us. It shows what he thinks of his hometown,” said Wille.
On March 6, Mario’s Pizza, 748 W. Madison St. in Pontiac, will donate 20 percent of sales to the fundraiser. Donations can be made at www.cairnforkids.com.