On January 28, 2020, Mark Levitt was on top of the world – literally! Along with Albert Labelle, Chantal Jasmin, their son, Maxime Labelle, his girlfriend Véronique Lapointe, and expedition leader Terry Soucy, Mark had signed up for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to climb Mount Kilimanjaro while raising funds for Hope & Cope. They were joined by two other climbers who raised funds for Procure.
Mark had been fascinated by the idea of scaling Africa’s highest peak for quite a while. So when the opportunity came to do just that while raising funds for cancer patients in memory of his wife, Beverly Lecker Levitt, who had passed away 10 years earlier from cancer, the 61 year-old eagerly accepted the challenge. “I’m a calculated risk-taker,” he explained. “I knew we would be well supported on the climb. The only risk would be not making it to the top.”
The initial reaction from his family, however, was anything but calm. “My mother absolutely forbade me from going,” Mark laughed. “But as she learned more about the climb and my reasons for going, she became very supportive.” Mark’s father surprised him with a $3600 donation on his 94th birthday, and his adult children were proud of him. “It was a big challenge and a bit crazy, but if anyone could do it, it’s my father,” said his son, Chad.
As a longtime admirer of Hope & Cope’s Founder, Sheila Kussner, and her late husband, Marvyn, Mark knew how much good Hope & Cope does in the community. He set – and quickly exceeded – an ambitious fundraising target of $100,000. “Everyone I approached in Montreal knew about Hope & Cope, and was happy to contribute,” said Mark, who singlehandedly raised close to $120,000.
Mark trained intensively, preparing himself mentally and physically for the grueling 10-day climb in rough terrain, under constant rain, with temperature variations from +30 at the base to -20 at the summit. Thankfully, the rain held off when they made their 9-hour push to the summit. Standing on top of Mount Kilimanjaro, awed by the spectacular views and overcome with emotion, Mark said a memorial prayer for his late wife.
The brainchild of Hope & Cope Board member, Howard Stotland, the Kilimanjaro Climb was part of a larger fundraising Campaign called Tell Cancer to Take a Hike. The Campaign ran from 2018-2020. “I had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on behalf of the Montreal Children’s Hospital in 2011 and it was an incredible experience,” said Howard. Participants were required to pay their own way, purchase their gear and raise a minimum of $6,500 each. Recognizing that there were many people who simply could not afford to undertake a 12-day trip to Africa but who enjoyed hiking and wanted to support Hope & Cope, Howard and a group of volunteers, including fellow Board member, Alice Lehrer, came up with a unique idea: Kili chez nous – hikes of beautiful mountain regions in and around Montreal. Kili chez nous was an immediate winner. “Hikers enjoyed the physical challenge, the fresh air, the scenery, the camaraderie. There was so much satisfaction in knowing we were helping cancer patients with every step we took.”
Of course, Howard and Alice readily admit that the icing on the cake was raising $1.1 million over the two-year lifespan of the Tell Cancer to Take a Hike fundraiser – a total that surpassed their wildest expectations.